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Top 5 Social Media Marketing Lessons Learned in 2013

Hindenburg burning

“Hindenberg burning” courtesy via Wikimedia Commons

American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It’s for that reason (and not schadenfreude) that I want to recount my top 5 list of social media #fails from this year. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see what we can learn…

#5 – Offensive (Frequently Racist) Tweets

I could have made a top-ten list of nothing more than offensive social media posts and more than half of them would have been racially insensitive. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt in many of these, as you can make a very plausible case that the person didn’t realize the offensiveness of their posts specifically because they’re not racist and honestly didn’t understand.

And then there are some that are so baffling it’s difficult to come up with any explanation whatsoever. Thus was the case just two days ago when InterActive Corp (IAC) PR director Justine Sacco sent this Tweet minutes before boarding a plane from the UK to South Africa:

social media marketing #fail - Justine Sacco Lane AIDS

Even though Justine had a scant 200 followers, her Tweet went viral and resulted in a bizarre Twitter waiting game during her 11+ hour flight. The hash tag #HasJustineLandedYet had the social media world on pins and needles awaiting the predictable outcome. Her employer first distanced itself from her remarks, then Justine deleted her Twitter account, and then she was sacked.

Lesson: OK, you’d think it would be obvious to say that you shouldn’t use racially insensitive remarks in your social media updates. But based on the sheer number of them from this year, the message clearly hasn’t been received. And since it’s the holiday season and I’m trying to maintain a positive attitude in the middle of lots of negativity, here’s a positive and clever outcome from this story. The non-profit organization Aid for Africa registered and is redirecting it to their donation page. Newsjacking for the win!

#4 – Caring Robots

I understand the need for corporations to scale their social media marketing efforts. Heck, I even help them do it. But you can’t automate empathy. There were several examples this year of companies who created automated Twitter responses based on keyword searches. The result is an embarrassing display of hubris and idiocy. These companies end up with the exact opposite result they were looking for. Instead of demonstrating real empathy for their customers, they reinforce the perception that they a large, uncaring institution.

Enter Bank of America and this hilarious (and NSFW) conversation that began with a sidewalk artist sharing his anti-BofA graffiti and goes quickly downhill from there:

Lesson: Don’t try to fake sincerity. And if you’re going to automate customer service, you should be very careful and have it properly resourced so that you can respond quickly with real humans and provide real support.

#3 – Know Thyself

This seems to crop up every year, also. Big companies who engage in Twitter chats and contests, only to have the trolled and hijacked. This year’s “winner” is J.P. Morgan Chase proudly announced that they would hold a chat with incoming Vice Chairman Jimmy Lee. Hilarity ensued.

Lesson: You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict what would happen with this idea. It’s hard to imagine how insulated and removed from reality you must be in order to give something like this a try when the negative perception of your industry in general and brand in particular are so well known. There are very companies I’d recommend attempt this sort of unpredictable campaign. You’d have to have a passionate customer based and solid gold online reputation. And notice I used the term “online reputation.” You may have a great offline reputation but that won’t help you if it doesn’t follow you on Twitter.

#2 – Lock It Down

I know, I know. Best practices for securing logins is a major pain in the neck. It takes time, costs money and pretty much makes life miserable for everyone. I know. But that’s the unfortunate reality of the online world we live – at least until there’s enough commercial demand for better solutions. In the mean time, it’s important to have good policies in place to secure all of your company accounts, especially customer-facing ones like social media accounts.

British retailer HMV apparently didn’t have control over its Twitter account and/or neglected to follow good personnel procedures when they brought a large group of employees into a meeting to announce they were all being laid off. This group included their social media manager who vindictively live-Tweeted the meeting.

HMV tweet layoff

Lesson: First, don’t fire someone and leave them in charge of your Twitter account. Duh. Second, be sure that your hiring and firing checklists include policies and procedures regarding social media. The same (maybe even more) diligence you would apply to corporate network accounts needs to be utilized with social media accounts.

#1 – Don’t Be a Jerk

Let’s face it; Getting noticed on social media isn’t easy and the temptation to make a splash by any means necessary is always there Newsjacking can be a very effective strategy for doing that. Often there’s a fine line between newsjacking and being a jerk-face. But sometimes that line isn’t fine at all. Sometimes it is very dark and very wide. My own rule of thumb is that when people have died, it’s generally best not to try to use that incident to troll for website hits or sell recipes (or anything else).

This is a lesson Epicurious learned the hard way in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings when they displayed breathtaking insensitivity by suggesting that Bostonians boost their energy with some breakfast cereal or honor the victims with a cranberry scone. As if that wasn’t enough, after realizing their mistake they doubled down on stupidity by employing mistake #4 on this list by robotically copying and pasting the same apology over and over again.

Epicurious Boston Marathon #fail

Lesson: The first rule of corporate social media during a national or international crisis is to just shut up. It’s safest that way. But if you feel you must share, for Pete’s sake, please don’t try to score web visits or sell stuff. And certainly don’t compound your mistake with automated apologies.

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