Companies lacking a clear social media strategy can have their social media activities turn into disasters.

In order to tackle the risk of having a social media plan taking a counterproductive direction, a step-by-step process needs to be implemented in order to introduce and use social media in the most efficient way for the organization.

Here are three examples of companies where social media has gone badly wrong for them:


  1. Toyota: to promote the Toyota Camry during the Superbowl, the company created a range of Twitter accounts to channel its marketing campaign. Through this massive campaign, Toyota intended to reach out to users and tweet with as many as possible, raising awareness for its Toyota Camry by doing so. The campaign had however the opposite effect completely. Instead of engaging with users, the company instead overwhelmed them with a flow of promotional messages. Users blamed Toyota for spamming them with unwelcome messages and although Toyota apologized afterwards, a level of damage had already been done. Engaging in a two-way conversation with social media users is key; sending messages that users can find useful, personal, and re-tweet needs to be at the center of engaging with customers. A social media strategy that does not give enough space for users to engage with brands is not a sustainable one.
  2. Ragu: this instance of social media gone badly wrong is an example of how a social media program needs to have a studied strategy behind and target the right audience in order to work. Sending a message to a random pool of people may be counterproductive, and sending it to the ‘wrong’ one will be even more so. In this particular Ragu campaign, the company created a video of mothers saying that dads were not able to cook. Ragu then marketed this video to male twitter users, utilizing its @ragusauce Twitter account. While the company intended for the video to be funny or at least amusing, the video had however the opposite effect. The company became perceived as one that encourages stereotypes, creating a negative image for its brand. The video might have been more receptive if it had been marketed to women, but what was more of an issue in this Ragu case was that after male bloggers and twitter users voiced their discontent with the video, the company did not really take the time or effort to respond to this criticism. Even if this was not the attention from the company, this silence showed lack of interest, an attitude that is almost never appreciated by customers.
  3. Applebee: the company recently fired one of its waitresses, Chelsea Welch, for posting a photo of a customer receipt on Reddit, reading:  ‘I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?’. The post became viral on the social media site, stirring many comments from users. This event, along with Welch’s subsequent layoff and an article she wrote to The Guardian right after it, pushed Applebee at the center stage of an online debate and rather negative spotlight, with many questioning the company’s decision to fire Chelsea Welch. This example highlights two facets when it comes to social media. First of all, how much freedom should be given to employees in making information related to the organization public? Companies need to make sure that a social media policy is in place and that everyone is aware of it. Secondly and from the other side of the coin, this event also means that companies need to be extra careful when taking HR decisions of the sort as these can become public knowledge very fast. Companies do no longer have the freedom to take decisions that will never be known as these can instantly become under public scrutiny, which can in turn damage a company’s reputation.


These three examples of social media gone badly wrong show us some of the risks that social media raises when used within the realm of business.

Each risk, however, has a corresponding mitigation strategy and it in the company’s and its employees’ best interest to develop these mitigating strategies and implement them within a step-by-step process in order to minimize risks and amplify opportunities.

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Posted in: Social Media Cases, Social Media for Executives

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