10 lessons to learn from social media fails from 2013

It was the best of tweets, it was the worst of tweets. Social media has reached amazing highs this year, but there are also some horrific lows that there aren’t enough animal gifs to display the cringeworthyness of. Here, we take a wander through the social media fails of 2013 to dig out 10 lessons that brands could stand to learn going forward.

1: If you fire someone, make sure to change the Twitter password

This lesson began in January when HMV staffer Poppy Rose live tweeted the 'mass execution' of 60 staff members. However, to give HMV its due, the series of tweets were promptly deleted about 20 minutes after the first one was set - although this was of course long after screenshots were taken and the series of tweets were saved into immortality. The Plough Pub clearly hadn't learned this lesson by December, when a series of tweets were sent out from the head chef, who claimed he was fired after asking for a weekend off. The tweets stayed up for several days, before the Plough Pub's account was closed.So, the lesson learned? If you're going to fire someone who has the keys to the social media account... make sure you change the password first.

2: Be very careful of Q&As

In theory, Twitter Q&As are a good idea. Give the public the chance to chat to and ask questions to head honchos, add a bit of personality to the brand, what could be better? Erm... JP Morgan learned that it only works if people have nice things to say about the company. The JP Morgan Q&A with vice chairman Jimmy Lee, was promptly cancelled.Some companies have gone ahead with Q&As at difficult times: 3: And if you do decide to go ahead, it’s probably best to not chat up customers Ok, this is probably not something that the CEOs of most companies would be likely to do, but there is one man in particular who thought his Twitter Q&A was a good time to check out avatars.Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary lived up to his name (leer, get it?) and reputation with his 'phwoaaarr' tweet. And he forgot to use the official designated #GrilMOL hashtag.

4: Insulting customers is not the best plan to deal with a fall-out

If you decide to go on TV and it goes a bit wrong, it can be fairly upsetting. But what not to do is call customers 'pussies' and say you are laughing at them.The only thing worse is to send a torrent of abuse at the public for days... and then claim you were hacked. No one will buy it, Amy's Bakery. And by 'it', we mean your product as well, for a while.

5: Actually, it’s best to not insult anyone

It should go without saying, really, but racist posts aren't funny. This was a lesson that Home Depot had to learn this year, after sending the above tweet. Also, calling a nine year old rude words isn't a good idea either. We're talking to you, The Onion. The Oscar for the most offensive tweet goes to...

6: Check scheduled tweets

This one isn't as important, but one to remember. If the company is going through a wee bit of a PR disaster it's always good to check any scheduled messages to see if there are any messages which could be seen as referring to whatever scandal you've been involved in.Tesco could have stood to learn this one when it scheduled a 'hit the hay' tweet before it became embroiled in the horse meat scandal. A quick check of scheduled messages and this could have been solved, neigh problem.

7: If creating a Facebook poll, don’t let people add their own answers

So, you're looking to add a bit more engagement to your Facebook page. A poll seems like a good idea. But a better idea is a poll where you don't let the public add their own answers.Or you could end up with Boris Johnson flavoured Jaffa Cakes. And no one wants that.

8: Don’t use terrorist attacks to sell products

2012 saw several companies - American Apparel, for example - use natural disasters to try to boost sales. That didn't go well. Lesson learned, you would have thought.But no. 2013 saw Epicurous suggest whole-grain cranberry scones 'in honour' of the Boston bombings.

9: And don’t then say you’ll provide help based on the number of likes or retweets

This lesson isn't from something that happened in 2013 alone, but the backlash shows it is still something that brands need to be aware of. Yes, people are happy to know that companies give money to charity, but to suggest that they will only provide food or help if the public retweets or likes a post is not a good idea.Kellogg's learned that wording is very important.

10: Hacks happen - be ready

2013 saw various accounts hacked: Burger King was 'bought over' by McDonalds, and Jeep was 'sold' to Cadillac. The hacks did not just send tweets, the name and background pictures for both were changed as well.It is important for companies to have someone available to deal with such a situation... and a hard-to-crack password doesn't hurt. 'Password1' does not fall under this bracket.There you have it: ten tips based on fails from 2013. Check out the social media fails of 2012.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.