The 7 Biggest Social Media Fails of 2017 -- So Far

You don't want customers having an unintended laugh at your expense, do you? Here's how to protect yours.
VIP Contributor

We've all made mistakes on social media, whether that's meant uploading the wrong picture or accidentally offending someone. Accidents happen. But when they happen to a major corporation, on a large enough scale to reach millions of people, the reputation of the brand itself may be jeopardized -- and customers may have an unintended laugh at its expense.

Related: The 4 Costliest Mistakes Businesses Make on Social Media

This year, 2017, is no exception to the ongoing flurry of social media fails by major brands. So, I thought I'd take the time to collect the biggest social media fails of the year (so far) to see what we can learn about social media management:

1. United Airlines drops the ball.

If you've been paying attention to United Airlines, you know the company hasn't been having a good year. Things started when passengers took (and shared) video of a man being forcibly dragged off a plane by security when he was randomly selected -- and declined -- to forfeit his seat for airline maintenance workers.

That alone was enough to cause an uproar on social media and tarnish the reputation of the brand, but things only got worse when CEO Oscar Munoz issued a cold, victim-blaming apology in which he praised his employees for following proper procedures. Proper procedure or not, delicate situations like this require warmth and understanding -- and United Airlines wasn't prepared to offer it.

2. Dove gives women more body issues.

Dove went viral on social media in early May -- and not in a good way. In its ongoing effort to redefine popular beauty standards, Dove made a controversial move to reshape its shampoo bottles to reflect different body types. On paper, it may have looked like a good idea. But to many women, this indirectly confirmed that there was a "best" or "right" body type, after all. The question raised was, Do you choose the bottle that matches your body type?

Related: United Airlines Passenger Dragged Off Plane by Airport Employees

3. Pepsi doesn't understand that Black Lives Matter.

Pepsi missed a lot of red flags in its misguided attempt to promote its product within a frame of peace and understanding (and Kendall Jenner), and a backdrop of a protest against police brutality. Immediately, social media users called for a Pepsi boycott and accused the company of undermining the Black Lives Matter movement, and exploiting it to sell more products. Pepsi quickly apologized and withdrew the ad, a smart move that prevented further damage, but the ad dealt a blow to its reputation.

4. McDonald's trashes the president.

In March, a surprising tweet from McDonald's came out, trashing President Trump: "You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have Barack Obama back, also you have tiny hands." As you might guess, it wasn't McDonald's itself but hackers who published the tweet. The company took the tweet down swiftly, but the incident showed how vulnerable corporate accounts can be.

5. Uber backs the wrong horse.

Back in January, Trump's immigration ban was in the spotlight, and taxi drivers in New York gathered together for a strike, to protest the legislation, asking all drivers, including those from Uber and Lyft, to join the protest. Uber, apparently trying to take advantage of the situation, suspended "surge" pricing and issued a tweet aimed at promoting its service.

Many viewed that action as an attempt to undermine the strike. In contrast, its competitor, Lyft, sent out a message of solidarity and announced a $1 million donation to the ACLU. Thousands of users posted to the hashtag #DeleteUber viral in response, and Lyft saw an enormous boost in users. Additionally, for the first time ever, Lyft's downloads surpassed Uber's on Sunday, January 29, as a direct result of the #DeleteUber campaign.

6. Adidas chooses unfortunate words.

This fail boiled down to a simple, and probably innocent, but very poor choice of words. After this year's Boston marathon, the company tweeted out, "Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!" inadvertently recalling imagery of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The company recovered swiftly by immediately taking the tweet down and issuing a heartfelt apology.

7. The federal Department of Education fails to educate.

Spelling errors aren't that big of a deal -- unless you're the federal Department of Education. This year, the Department of Education sent out a tweet misspelling W. E. B. DuBois's name, then misspelled "apologies" as "apologizes" in its follow-up apology-for-misspelling tweet. Ouch.

Key takeaways

So what did we learn from these embarrassing social media fails?

  • Double-check everything. It's only going to take a few minutes to check your post for typos, factual inaccuracies or hidden implications before it goes out. Have someone in your office on standby to proofread everything your company sends out. Catching just one bad mistake will make all that effort worth it.
  • Invest in better security. When your account is compromised, you lose all control. Invest in better security measures, including training for your employees so they'll choose, rotate and maintain stronger passwords.
  • Remember that politics is a dangerous game. When you start meddling with or taking advantage of people's beliefs, you're taking a serious risk. If you end up on the "wrong" side, you'll face heavy backlash. Even if you're on the "right" side, if you're seen as insensitive or inaccurate in your presentation, people will condemn you for it.
  • If you make a mistake, admit to it. Every business is going to send out an erroneous or harmful tweet at some point. The ones that stand to recover easily are those that immediately and humbly admit to their mistakes, and try to make up for them.

Related: Pepsi Ignites Outrage With Kendall Jenner Ad

This year is only about halfway over, so even if your brand hasn't made any mistakes yet, it's still too early to count yourself in the clear. Prepare an audit of your existing social media strategy, and double-down your efforts to protect your reputation.

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