Social Media Gone Wrong … and How to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. However, when your mistake involves social media, it’s not that easy to make amends. Take, for example, the case of the (now) infamous KitchenAid tweet about President Obama’s dead grandmother.

If you somehow missed it, it went a little something like this: During the first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, Obama credited his tenacious grandmother who helped raise him and passed away three days before he was elected president.

Moments later, @KitchenAidUSA, the company’s official Twitter account, sent this:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president.” The insensitive tweet not only went to the company’s 25,000 followers, but also included a hashtag to make it a part of NBC News’ social debate conversation. KitchenAid hastily deleted the tweet, but the damage was done. Even after the head of the KitchenAid brand, Cynthia Soledad, offered an apology, many still expressed outrage and announced boycotts of the brand.

Of course, KitchenAid isn’t the only company who has fallen victim to social media gone bad. There is a plethora of marketing campaigns to choose from that all ended with disastrous results. Here are a couple listed below along with the lessons we can learn from each of them.

Toyota Camry

During last football season’s Superbowl, Toyota launched a major Twitter campaign meant to promote the Camry. Creating a number of Twitter accounts labeled @CamryEffect1 through @CamryEffect9, Toyota intended to engage users by directly tweeting them. However, this had the opposite effect: users accused Toyota of bombarding and spamming them with unsolicited messages. To their credit, Toyota quickly suspended the accounts and issued an apology, but by then it was too late.

Lesson learned: Not only is mass-spamming your social media audience an awful campaign plan, but in order to truly engage your community, tweets should be interesting and engaging. In the case of the Camry, it came across as nothing more than self-serving spam.

Qantas Airlines

Last year, Qantas faced huge backlash over a very poorly timed Twitter competition, inviting followers to win a pair of first class pajamas by tweeting their idea of a luxury experience. The promotion was arguably already in poor taste given the global economic downturn, but was also acutely insensitive given that at the time of the contest, the airline’s labor relations was at a standoff with the unions representing its pilots, engineers, baggage handlers and caterers. Qantas had grounded their entire domestic and international fleet, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. The competition turned into an opportunity for angry customers to share their gripes and jokes at the company’s expense.

Lesson Learned: Timing is everything.

Durex South Africa

Durex caused quite a controversy when they sent out this terrible tweet in South Africa: “Why did God give men penises? So they’d have at least one way to shut a woman up. #DurexJoke” The tweet certainly made an impression with tweeters, bloggers, and mainstream media picking up the story with the sole intent of trashing the brand. Durex later issued an apology of the offensive, misogynist tweet which was apparently sent out by their PR company.

Lesson Learned: Just because you have a hashtag joke does not mean anything goes, and sex does NOT always sell.

Now, for a couple examples of social media done right:


A couple years ago, Canlis, a restaurant in Seattle widely regarded as the best in the city, celebrated its 60th birthday, and to mark the occasion, it ran a Facebook and Twitter contest where the winners were able to dine at 1950’s prices. From a restaurant where the average entree can set you back over $60, that’s a pretty good deal. Brothers (and founders) Mark and Brian Canlis personally signed 50 restaurant menus from 1950 and hid them around the Greater Seattle area daily for the 50 days leading up the Canlis’ 60th birthday. The “scavenger hunt” started anew every day, as the restaurant posts a clue to the menu’s whereabouts, via their Twitter and Facebook accounts. The first person to unravel the clue and find the hidden menu won the dinner.

This was a genius social media marketing campaign and I love the creativity that went into it. The contest duration was long enough to give it lasting interest and participation, it encouraged repeat visitors to their social media sites, the prize was worth playing for, and there were MANY winners.

Proctor & Gamble

We all know the infamous ‘Old Spice’ viral video campaign by now (which earned itself over 43 million views on YouTube), but what you may not have heard of is the follow up to the video. Proctor and Gamble’s brand agency, Wieden + Kennedy, put Isaiah Mustafa on the Web and invited fans to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets to pose questions that he quickly answered. The questions poured in–even celebrities asked a few–and Mustafa responded in more than 180 Web videos shot quickly over a few days. The real-time effort was the first of its kind, but it won’t be the last.


Lastly, let’s take a look at a social media campaign going on right now that you can take part in: QuestionPro, a provider of online survey software, is currently running a contest on their Facebook page, asking users to ‘burn their comment cards’. The idea behind the contest is that the era of paper feedback is dead, and that hospitality needs to move to a more digital solution, such as QR codes, digital feedback surveys, and iPad and tablet based research tools.

This campaign works for a few reasons — it’s funny without being offensive, it relates to their product strongly enough to send a message but without going overboard, and most importantly, it’s easy to enter. Yes, there are lots of examples of super-innovative contests that attract plenty of attention, but there are even more examples of innovative contests that flop because they are too complicated for the user.

Head over to the contest page to check it out.

Written by Paul Dunay
Paul Dunay is an award-winning B2B marketing expert with more than 20 years’ success in generating demand and creating awareness for leading technology, consumer products, financial services and professional services organizations. Paul is the global vice president of marketing for Maxymiser a leading web optimization firm, and author of four “Dummies” books: Facebook Marketing for Dummies (Wiley 2009), Social Media and the Contact Center for Dummies (Wiley Custom Publishing 2010), Facebook Advertising for Dummies (Wiley 2010) and Facebook Marketing for Dummies 2nd Edition (Wiley 2011). His unique approach to marketing has led to recognition of Paul as a BtoB Magazine Top 25 B2B Marketer of the Year for 2010 and 2009 and winner of the DemandGen Award for Utilizing Marketing Automation to Fuel Corporate Growth in 2008. He is also a finalist for the last six years in a row in the Marketing Excellence Awards competition of the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), and is a 2010 and 2005 gold award winner in Driving Demand. Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul’s blog, has been recognized as a Top 20 Marketing Blog for 2009 and 2008, a Top Blog to Watch for 2009 and 2008, and an Advertising Age Power 150 blog in the “Daily Ranking of Marketing Blogs.” Paul has shared his marketing thought leadership as a featured speaker for the American Marketing Association, BtoB Magazine, CMO Club, MarketingProfs, Marketing Sherpa, Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG), and ITSMA. He has appeared on Fox News, and his articles have been featured in BusinessWeek, The New York Times, BtoB Magazine, MarketingProfs and MarketingSherpa. Paul holds an Executive Certificate in Strategy and Innovation from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and a bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Computer Science from Ithaca College.