Social Media #Fails: Lessons For Brands

By October 5, 2012 June 11th, 2018 Social Media

This week, KitchenAid came under fire for a rouge tweet about President Obama’s late grandmother during the Presidential Debate.

kitchenaid obama tweet

The tweet was swiftly deleted, but but many of the brands 25,000 followers had more than enough time to see the post and retweet to their own followers. Obama’s grandmother passed away in November 2008, just before her grandson was elected President.

This latest social media management mistake made me think about other times in recent memory when posting for a brand accidentally or in bad taste has resulted in negative backlash. The cause of the tweet, degree of offense, and response make these seven social media #fails cautionary tales for brands and social media employees.

Insensitive Posting:

Insensitive posting on behalf of a person or brand can negatively impact both their own image and that of any companies they represent. In the case of public personalities, personal twitter feeds aren’t really personal and jokes meant for friends can be shared with the world. These four learned the hard way:

     1. Gilbert Gottrried

gilbert gottfried Japan tweets

In March 2011, as Japan struggled to recover from a devastating Tsunami, comedian Gilbert Gottfried responded with jokes on Twitter. The series of tweets landed the voice of the Aflac duck in the hot seat, and he was swiftly fired. Poorly timed and intended to be offensive, Gottfried’s tweets came as no surprise to those who love the comedian. In this case, the social media failure may almost be directed to Aflac, despite the fact that Gottfried was using a personal account.

Selecting a spokesperson gives them the power to influence your brand message with their personal tweets. In this case, Aflac should have expected that Gottfried would not toe the line.

     2. Roger Ebert

In June 2011, “Jackass” star Ryan Dunn and a passenger were killed in a car accident after Dunn posted photos of the two drinking on Twitter. The following morning Roger Ebert’s response drew fire from the “Jackass” stars and fans alike, accusing him of insensitivity and lack of respect for Dunn. Ebert, who is notorious for offensive opinions, later discovered that his Facebook page had been removed for violating Facebook’s Terms of Use. Speculating that he had been targeted by fans of the “Jackass” series. Rather than apologize for his tweet or remove it, Ebert took to his blog to explain his side of the story.

Toxicology reports later revealed that Dunn’s blood alcohol level was at .196, double the legal limit in Pennsylvania, and he was driving at speeds between 132-140 mph at the time of the accident.

     3. Ashton Kutcher

Ashton Kutcher Tweet Joe Paterno


In November 2011, Actor Ashton Kutcher took to Twitter to express his indignation over the firing of Penn State’s legendary football coach, Joe Paterno. Kutcher assumed Paterno had been fired due to age or poor performance. In reality, Paterno was released for his role in the cover up of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse charges. Fans immediately attacked Kutcher for his failure to check facts and lack of sympathy for child abuse victims.


Kutcher took to his blog to share the story behind the tweet and pass management of the account to Katalyst Network.

     4. Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole Cairo Tweet

In February 2011, the uprisings in Egypt were in full swing. Capitalizing on the Twitter trend, Kenneth Cole took the opportunity to promote the new spring collection. The tweet spawned parody accounts and outcries of insensitivity.

Kenneth Cole responded by removing the offending tweet and apologizing on Facebook: “I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”


Mismanaged Accounts:

Managing a brand account is not possible for every company owner to manage personally; however, hiring a social media company or choosing an in-house team to manage your social media is not to be taken lightly, as these companies learned.

     1. Red Cross

Red Cross Slizzrd Tweet

Passing the keys to social media accounts can be dangerous, as the Red Cross learned in February 2011. An employee accidentally crossed their accounts while learning to use Hootsuite. The Red Cross swiftly responded by removing the tweet and responding in good humor.

This case of crisis management done right earned the Red Cross kudos from the Twitter community, and even sparked an influx of donations. Their blog explains the mistake, and thanks supporters for their increased donations.

2. Chrysler

Detroit Driving Chrysler Tweet

While the Red Cross was remarkably understanding, Chrysler and its social media company, New Media Strategies, were certainly less forgiving of the employee who confused a personal handle with Chrysler’s account after a stressful morning commute. The tweet in March 2011 was directly contradicting Chrysler’s focus on promoting Detroit at the time. Chrysler responded by firing New Media Strategies and sharing a blog to clarify the situation. New Media Strategies in turn fired the employee responsible for the tweet.

The response to this situation gained negative publicity for Chrysler not only for the tweet, but for allegedly demanding the firing of the employee and claiming to promote Detroit while selecting Eminem to star in their Superbowl ad. Chrysler is a cautionary tale for any social media manager- you could pay for a single tweet with your job.

3. Celeb Boutique

Aurora twitter fail

One of the more recent social media outrages was sparked when Celeb Boutique attempted to hijack the #Aurora trending topic in the wake of the Aurora movie theatre shooting in July 2012. The social media company behind the handle had not checked the reason for the trend before making a joke to promote a product.

Celeb Boutique responded with a series of tweets explaining that they use an outsourced company who was unaware of the shootings. This explanation did not stop boycott groups from forming in protest.


Lessons Learned:

Assuming responsibility for a brand’s social media is not to be taken lightly. Always proofread, double check your accounts, and do your research before posting. Brands should understand that mistakes happen, and the result has more to do with your response than the tweet itself.