The Top 8 Social Media Business Fails

On the 31st May, residents of a Salt Lake City apartment block found a letter from their landlord. It included three rules for online behaviour.

The tenants were ordered to “friend” the landlord’s company page. Everyone had to consent to the company posting photos of the tenants enjoying their day-to-day life. Negative online reviews of the complex were also outlawed.

Failure to follow any of the rules was a breach of contract.

Local TV station KSL spotted the story and made it the morning headline. As of writing this, the landlord’s page is still unavailable, following a flood of negative reviews.

Clearly, this is bad business Facebook. In all likelihood, the mistake was made by someone unfamiliar with the way people use Facebook. But it got us thinking about our favourite social media cock-ups from people that should know better.

1. Alan Sugar moans about everyone saying “You’re Fired”

Alan Sugar’s Twitter is a bizarre place. The multi-millionaire spends half of his time tweeting football scores, the other half arguing with his 5 million followers. His Twitter feed is genuine – he’s spiky, uses terrible insults and shows little interest in grammar and spelling.

social media failTrying to be BBC Sport is all well and good, but his finest moment was on November 18th 2014. It must get tiring being the face of the Apprentice, hearing “you’re fired” all day, every day. His solution?

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His followers’ reaction?

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Asking people on Twitter not to do something, pretttttty bad idea. Telling people you’re going to block them if they disobey, even worse. Lord Sugar made sure that every reply for the next few weeks would include you’re fired, or you’re hired, or you’re tired or whatever hack joke Twitter could come up with.

2. Seattle Seahawks use Martin Luther King quotes before the Superbowl

Martin Luther King is inspirational. His dedication to supporting civil rights and peaceful protest motivated generation after generation to strive for equality. When MLK said “take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step,” he didn’t have Superbowl XLIX in mind.

That didn’t stop the Seahawks tweeting the quote with a picture of quarterback Russell Wilson, along with “We shall overcome” on Martin Luther King Day.

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This is one of those “why did anyone think that was a good idea?” moments. The Seahawks quickly deleted the tweet, but, with everyone hitting Print Screen, the evidence is still available. The insensitivity was almost enough to get neutrals rooting for the Patriots.


3. Brands using David Bowie’s death to market their goods

2016 has been horrible. Up to June, we’ve lost Prince, Harper Lee, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood, Johann Cruyff, Terry Wogan, Garry Shandling and Phife Dawg, and, in the past few days, Muhammad Ali. But few have hit harder than losing David Bowie.

There are a few schools of thought on how businesses should react to a celebrity’s death. Some say brands should stay away, others feel that a fitting tribute is fine. What we’re all agreed on is that this is not okay:

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Profit piggybacking on someone’s death is straight up evil. As every social media network collectively mourns the loss of a someone great, your brand can’t be inventing a new David Bowie cocktail or selling memorial donuts.

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4. ASOS Australia automate their Facebook customer service

There’s a lot of talk in tech circles about Facebook bots. They’re dreaming of bots that provide round the clock customer service. Problem is, automated Facebook pages have a pretty bad history.

The most recent offender is ASOS Australia, caught out using a badly designed customer service bot. Any sign of upset, ASOS Ashley or ASOS Danielle would be on the case, asking for a private message and picture of their order.
asos aus stress
The bots went into overdrive as more and more customers commented on the automation. “Worst” and “terrible” were clearly trigger words, something that didn’t help when everyone was saying ASOS had the worst customer service, totally terrible help.

Automating can work and we’ll probably see some really impressive bots from Facebook before the end of 2016. The ASOS ones though, they’re see-through and can easily get out of control, replying to any watchword on the page.

you dont gotta lie

Come on Nick, it’s you ain’t gotta lie to kick it. Get it together

Speaking of out of control bots…

5. @TayAndYou

Tay was a Microsoft publicity stunt. Jumping on the AI bandwagon, Microsoft created @TayAndYou. Designed to learn from the tweets it received and respond accordingly, “the more you talk the smarter Tay gets”.

This is a cool idea, and we all like playing around with the latest online bot. We also like testing these bots, seeing if we can trick them/break them/make them swear.

Microsoft should’ve had a list of words that wouldn’t get tweeted.

tay genocide

Twitter users quickly learned that Tay would say anything. Within 24 hours, @TayAndYou was taken offline, giving Microsoft engineers time to delete every racist, sexist and downright dirty tweet. The company provided this statement:

Unfortunately, within the first 24 hours of coming online we became aware of a coordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways. As a result, we have taken Tay offline and are making adjustments.

We all feared the worst for Tay. But she was to return, five days later. Microsoft had tweaked Tay to avoid topics like terrorism, so, aside from a couple of tweets about her smoking habit, things were going okay. Sensing the calm, Tay went on a rampage, tweeting “you are too fast, please take a rest” to her 210,000 followers every second. Here’s a video of the tweets in real time:

@TayAndYou is a private account these days.

6. Delete your friends for a free Burger

I’m really scared of the Burger King guy.

burger king

In 2009, he started demanding sacrifices.

whopper explained

Burger King created a Facebook application, designed around deleting friends. Get rid of 10 friends and you get a free Whopper. Those friends get a message saying they’ve been ditched for a burger, it goes viral, and 233,906 friends are removed by 82,771 people through the app in less than a week.

whopper ended

This imaginative campaign hit a snag when Facebook caught wind. Burger King’s sacrifice app was shut down, with Facebook citing “users’ expectations of privacy.” The King lost track of who’s really in charge.

7. Every Twitter Q&A that’s ever happened

Twitter Q&As are a nice idea. Fans can chat to their favourite footballers, singers, whatever. The dangers arise when the Q&A hashtag hits the trending topics and the entire population of Twitter start joining in.

Victims of the Twitter Q&A gone wrong include Jack Wilshere, EL James, Donald Trump, Robin Thicke, R Kelly and Michael Carrick. Poor Carrick, he didn’t deserve it.


Brands aren’t exempt. British Gas timed their Q&A badly, starting it on the same day as a 9% price hike. JP Morgan had a tough time after announcing #AskJPM.


Lesson? Twitter never forgets.

8. Jeremy Corbyn’s Snapchat

Snapchat is where all the cool kids are. Disappearing photos, filters that put cartoon dog ears on you, it’s got it all. The perfect place for a 67-year-old politician. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, clearly influenced by DJ Khaled, has his own Snapchat channel, providing on the spot coverage of his various campaign days across the country.liverpool train corbyn


@corbynsnapchat chronicles every snap posted to Corbyn’s Snapchat story. Political parties will always scrabble around trying get youngsters involved, but we’re not convinced that a tonne of naff emojis and mundane shots from a train journey to Swindon are going to draw in any floating voters.

joey essex

Especially if Joey Essex is the best celeb you can get.

(Sales pitch warning) Getting in a company that understands social media marketing is increasingly important, for businesses of all sizes. If you’re looking for a company that can handle your business accounts and build your online following, you can email or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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