3 Top 2010 Social Media #Fail

On Twitter, the Fail hashtag, #Fail, is used to mark something that went wrong, from a misdialed phone number to a major public event. It’s so popular that The Cheezburger Network introduced the FailBlog whose success spawned competitors like Epic Fail where readers post and vote on funny photos.

Social media provides networks and functionality that enable users to widely and quickly distribute their messages. As many corporations have discovered, despite good intentions and best efforts, these platforms amplify and disperse negative messages at exponential rates.

Since social media marketing can go from one tweet to a trending topic in the blink of an eye, it’s important to continually monitor the social media landscape for potential hot spots that can blossom into PR issues, and have a crisis management plan ready to respond. The biggest social media fails of 2010 were:

  1. BP Spills more than oil. BP’s April 20th oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed eleven people and caused an oil spill that couldn’t be halted for five months. During the course of this environmental disaster that killed employees, destroyed livelihoods, ruined property and devastated wildlife, BP CEO Tony Hayward’s concern for the inconvenient interruption to his personal life was outrageous. Hayward’s outright insensitivity and BP’s delayed response gave rise to social media efforts that drowned out paid advertising and rigorous press messages. Most notable was the Fake BP PR Twitter account that was followed by over 180,000 users. From a marketing perspective, BP’s brand may never recover. As B.L. Ochman wrote, “BP this is your image, forever!” For the first time in 11 years, BP fell off Interbrand’s list of top brands. In addition to the cost of the cleanup and lost operating revenue, significant investor equity was lost as well.
  2. LeBron James builds a social media platform only to say good-bye. Of course, it wasn’t what fans wanted to hear. Cleveland’s hometown basketball hero, James had won over the hearts and minds of Cavalier fans. During the run up to his free agent announcement, James built an amazing social media tribe combined with offline media buzz. In the process, he aroused the fans of other teams he was romancing including the NY Knicks. Instead of leveraging the strength of these platforms to further engage once he announced his move to Miami, James left fans out in the cold. As a result, Cleveland fans burned his jerseys in the streets. When James played the Knicks in New York City recently, one of the tabloids referred to him as “LeBum”.  That said, fame has its benefits since James’ YouTube video of his ad has over 3.8 million views to-date.
  3. Haitian earthquake fund raising doesn’t help. Unlike other natural disasters, the Haitian earthquake connected people quickly via social media. Friends and families used social media and Skype to connect and get information about loved ones. Equally quickly, many not-for-profits, most notably the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, leveraged social media and mobile marketing to raise over $2 billion for Haiti in just six months. Unfortunately, lack of basic infrastructure made it difficult to get the money and supplies to the people who needed them most.

These three failures, involving a company, a celebrity personality and a country, provide the lesson that, with social media, acting quickly and decisively is critical. To combat social media fires that lead to social media fails, social media monitoring combining corporate social media guidelines and effective engagement of prospects, customers and the public is needed. The challenge is cutting through the noise and determining which conversations and dissatisfactions can ignite a social media fire that’s easily fanned into a prime time news debacle.

Were there other social media fails in 2010 that should be on this list? If so, please add the event and explain why it should be there in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


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Photo credit: Hans.Gerwitz via Flicker

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  • Ravi Damodaran

    This reminds me of the adage doing the rounds when I joined Advertising Business half a century ago; you can only advertise (eulogize) Gold as lustrous shining gold. Any other metal ‘dressed’ up to look as gold would, if advertised as the real product fail miserably in the long run. Looking back 50 years of my career, the truth, even when distasteful, always helped retain both clients, business, and customers too.