5 Epic Social Media Fails

Image: Alex E. Proimos/Flickr

By now, most companies have learned that engaging with their customers and responding quickly to problems are the right thing to do, given that bad social media could basically destroy their brands in 2 hours flat. But even in today’s advanced technological age, some companies still manage to bungle their social PR efforts, either through tasteless campaigns or bad responses. We’ve listed five such social media fails here.

Quiznos Kooky Play on PornBad porn music, a 12-inch sub sandwich, and two girls in a bikini make a mediocre porn flick…and one godawful online Quiznos ad. The spot, loosely based on a porn spot called “2 Girls 1 Cup,” comes complete with moaning and mayo shots. Each bikini girl eating the sub from either end and shares a drink; the spot ends with a woman’s voice saying “mmm, toasty.” It really just should have said “mmm, tasteless.” Doesn’t exactly want to make you eat a Quizno’s sub.

Rats at KFC! Run!

Nothing screams “stay away from this place!” like a video of rats running amok. That’s exactly what happened in a Greenwich Village KFC in 2007. KFC’s rather relaxed response reflected some social-media naivete. “This is an isolated incident,” the company wrote, “the restaurant is closed and we will not allow it to be reopened until it has been sanitized…” The problem with that response was that people as far away as South Africa now associated KFC with rats, thanks to the viral power of YouTube. I’m sure the KFC crisis response team got a good kick in the butt after witnessing this sodden rat-related fail.

Kenneth Cole Hates Egypt

@KennethCole: Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://www.bit.ly/KCairo -KC

This Kenneth Cole gem came out during the height of Egypt’s revolution. It might as well translate to:

@KennethCole: Millions are in uproar in #Cairo, but we don’t care. We’re going to make fun of them instead and pimp our product while we’re at it. -KC

Or perhaps:

@KennethCole: Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Let’s poke fun at it for some negative publicity, ‘cuz negative publicity is better than no publicity, right? -KC

Whether ignorant or deliberate, this PR stunt had people in an uproar, raging about Kenneth Cole boycotts and screaming (in text) at the company to apologize. To his credit, KC did apologize, though the offending tweet stayed up an eternal five hours before he yanked it. He wrote 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.”

That’s a pretty good apology, considering. Bet he’ll check his judgment before pressing the carriage return next time.

BP’s Just Bad at It

Much like the ousted-to-Siberia Tony Hayward, BP’s social media team mastered self-centered, socially irrelevant communication. Rather than a fail based on a single action, like many of the others on the list, the BP fail has to do with an overarching error in perception. While offering us a play-by-play of how BP was approaching the spill, the company took little to no input from anyone in its audience, the same way some people turn group conversations into monologues about their own lies. Socializing is a two-way street, and hopefully BP will realize this in time for future campaigns.

Domino’s Booger Sandwiches

To Dominos’ credit, this wasn’t a social media misfire by corporate, but rather a huge slap in the social face by a couple of disgruntled employees in North Carolina. Let’s face it, putting cheese up your nose and blowing your nose into a sandwich aren’t exactly exaltations for the the Domino’s brand. It wasn’t hard to arrest the two 30-something (!) employees for violating health code, but what about damage to Domino’s? The company handled its response well. While some people doubtless avoided the pizza joint for weeks after the snotty event, Domino’s is known today for its pizza and Super Bowl commercials, not these two miscreants.

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.