Social media fails can spread messages like wildfire. While great when it’s a positive message about your brand. It’s a downright nightmare when things go wrong. Here are five examples of how things went horribly wrong.

1. Woody Harrelson’s AMA

An AMA is a session on the popular social news platform Reddit. AMA literally stands for “ask me anything.” Woody Harrelson was evidently unaware that this meant everybody on Reddit would have an opportunity to quite literally ask him anything, not just things about his latest movie.

This quickly went horribly wrong.

Among other things, one person posted a question about why Woody Harrelson allegedly crashed a high school prom, stole her friend’s virginity, and didn’t call her afterwards. The question quickly became the most “upvoted” comment, and Woody Harrelson never responded to the question.

There are a few lessons here. For one, understand the culture of a social media platform before getting involved. Reddit houses a highly skeptical and marketing averse culture that loves controversy. The site’s ability to remain anonymous also promotes extremely blunt commenting.

2. Toyota’s #CamryEffect

Toyota created nine accounts: @CamryEffect1 through @CamryEffect9. They then proceeded to hunt down users and bombard them with messages about the Camry. The campaign went so badly that an enormous number of users started complaining that Toyota was spamming them. The fact that the accounts were powered by humans did little to fix the problem. Toyota quickly suspended their accounts, and left a wake of destroyed brand pieces behind them.

Why did the campaign fail? It was entirely self-promotional. Toyota made no effort to spark interesting conversations, ask and answer questions, get involved in existing communities, or be a part of Twitter in general. They just bragged about the Camry.

It didn’t work.

3. McDonald’s #McDStories

McDonald’s asked their customers to share nostalgic memories of happy meals and their love affair with McDonald’s. Twitter users thought it would be funnier to share horror stories. The #McDStories hashtag quickly went viral in a way that was horrifying for the fast food giant.

There’s always the risk that a social media campaign will backfire, so it’s important to plan ahead and have a response plan in place. It’s also a bad idea to insult your audience’s intelligence by asking them to post stories about how great you are. McDonald’s best move probably would have been to play into the joke one way or another, but they did no such thing.

4. Kenneth Cole’s Hijacking of #Cairo

Riots spread through Cairo as the Egyptian public embarked on a massive rebellion against their tyrannical government. Kenneth Cole responded by tweeting that the riot was probably a response to their new spring collection, which just became available online.

It should be obvious that hijacking a serious political topic and trying to make a joke out of it is a bad idea. Especially if you’re blatantly trying to use the joke to send people to your online store.

Don’t hijack hashtags. Ever.

5. Chrysler Insults It’s Own City

Chrysler tweets “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.” This was while the company was running an “Imported from Detroit” campaign.

Chrysler’s response? They claimed to be hacked. Could it be true? It’s certainly possible, but simply stating that the account was hacked without an apology was a very bad PR move.

In contrast, Dominos Pizza and Red Cross faced what could have been horrific social media gaffs, but handled them well and avoided complete disaster. Two Dominos employees grossed out the nation by apparently putting “extra toppings” on their customers’ pizza in a YouTube video. Dominos’ president handled it very well by taking full responsibility and apologizing.

On the American Red Cross, an intern accidentally posted a tweet that was intended for a personal account. It said “when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd” They owned up to it and even poked fun at themselves afterward, averting disaster.

Conclusion

Beware the dark side of social media. Caution and preparation come with the territory. Avoid being excessively promotional and don’t insult your audience’s intelligence.

Alexis is a social media maven. She contributes to a variety of sites and currently on behalf of kanetix.

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