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We recently talked about famous brand failures, and how to avoid causing your own. Many of the ones we highlighted became famous because, with the passing of time, more and more people began to talk about them, ridicule them and even write about them. But that was a different era. One when brands were usually afforded a chance to think about what they’d done and come up with a response or a strategy to fix it (or not, as we highlighted). But we’re now in the digital age. One when even the smallest mistake is jumped upon, exploited and ridiculed, almost in the same moment it takes place. Again, it’s worth highlighting that these examples are not meant to mock those responsible. Quite the opposite. They’re to help other brands avoid the pitfalls of the fastest-growing element of this digital age – social media.

  1. PUBLIC RELATIONS FAILURES

Failure: Qantas’ ill-timed tweet
Dubbed ‘Australia’s greatest public relations failure’, Qantas launched a competition that used the hashtag #QantasLuxury as the entry mechanism. They innocently asked people to share their stories of being pampered while flying with them. However, the very next day the entire Qantas fleet was grounded after a labour-relations dispute. Unsurprisingly, customers were pissed and created an avalanche of sarcastic competition ‘entries’ on Twitter. The company was trending but for all the wrong reasons.
Lesson learned: Know the score
Qantas were incredibly unlucky in the timing of this innocent competition. That said, surely somebody knew that there was a potential for strike on the horizon! Social media is one of your strongest PR tools, so make sure those responsible know of any impending PR disasters. They should be the first to know, not the last. 

Failure: Being a smart-ass
When a London train passenger complained on the Transport for London Twitter account about train delays, he was simply met with the advice to ‘leave early next time’. What followed (right on time), was a torrent of abuse from outraged followers, a lot of bad press and a quickly back-peddling social media manager.
Lesson learned: Don’t try and take them on
Twitter is a fantastic tool but a lot of users are very quick to jump on the bandwagon of ‘outrage’ and ‘offence’. However, it’s your duty as a professional brand to not rise to it. While some do and manage to survive, if you’re honest and constructive it can often be enough. But remember, ‘haters gonna hate’.

  1. OFFENSIVE-PHOTO FAILURES

 Failure: Mad Mex’s mad photo
The well-known Australian grill kind of apologised for posting a doctored image of famous Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao made to look like a Mexican Justin Bieber (for some very strange reason). Having offended Australians, Mexicans, Filipinos and even ‘Beliebers’, they offered a half-assed apology yet refused to take down the offending image.
Lesson Learned: Stay well clear of race, religion or heritage
The brand claimed to have “learnt a valuable lesson in doing our research prior to posting” but if they think a lack of research was the problem, it’s not surprising one arose in the first place. Please, trust us when we say don’t ever mock someone’s race, religion or heritage. It’s simply not worth whatever value you think you’ll get out of it.

Failure: Being Donald Trump
Until he gets the nomination and becomes an actual threat to world security, ‘The Donald’ is the gift that keeps on giving. With too many social media gaffs to showcase here, the one most relevant to this section is his use of a Nazi SS Soldier in a promotional image on Twitter. Sometimes, you couldn’t make it up!
Lesson Learned: Read the small print
Ok this one you can forgive as it’s actually very hard to spot but unfortunately that’s what people online do. So try to check every detail of what you’re uploading and probably more importantly, have people you trust working for you because there’s no way that poster was an accident by the designer.

  1. PUBLIC HIJACKING AND “BASHTAGGING”

Failure: Letting people put words in your brand’s mouth
Some of Australia’s biggest brands including Coles, Woolworths and Coca-Cola have been on the receiving end of mocking tweets when users have been asked to share their thoughts, stories and comments online. While it’s not a new phenomenon for big corporations to be on the receiving end of satirical public responses, the reach and ease of online abuse means it is now asking for trouble to ask users to ‘Finish this sentence’ or ‘Share your thoughts’.
Lesson learned: The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
Have a strong ‘anti-abuse policy’, display it prominently and use it. Remove any comments that are abusive and overtly offensive but be careful where you draw the line. The public have a right to an opinion and you can’t be seen to be Orwellian, asking people to engage one minute then slamming them when they do.

Failure: Public Votes
The Rugby World Cup organisers have decided to ditch the public man of the match vote because of some ridiculous and embarrassing results. Online public votes were all the rage a few years ago but are starting to die away as some people love nothing more than hijacking them in favour of often-ironic outcomes – like a song about Irish republicanism being selected by the British Broadcasting Corporation as the world’s favourite song.
Lesson Learned: Be prepared to lose if asking for a winner
It’s far better to select three nominations yourself and ask people to select their favourite, than have them set the rules in the first place. Break your competition or request into two stages. You can ask people to enter whatever they want at the first stage so that you get maximum engagement but then cut it down and ask people to select an overall favourite. You may not get such large engagement for stage two but greed leads to problems.

A simple Google search of ‘social media failures’ will give you enough reading for two days but we just wanted to highlight some of the most fascinating and repetitive problems that brands face in today’s always-on, always-ready-to-pounce-on world. The best offence is a good defence, so before you get excited and post, Tweet or upload something, take a deep breath and think of all the possible consequences. Then, don’t be afraid to be brave. Social media is an invaluable tool and you can’t be perfect all the time. You just have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.