From an ad gone wrong to an in-flight commotion caught on cam, our list of the 10 biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017 gives you a glimpse into the viral blunders that caused the web to buzz during the first-half of the year.
Without a doubt, social media has dramatically transformed the way companies promote their brands—and there’s no stopping it anytime soon. According to a 2016 study by Gartner, more than 80% of the companies it surveyed planned to deploy a social media campaign this year. In 2015, 52% of consumers’ purchases were influenced by Facebook, compared to 36% in the year before, based on a study by DigitasLBi Connected Comission.
One of the reasons why social media is fast becoming a tool for advertising is due to its ability to deliver measurable results, particularly in terms of leads and sales. This is why Facebook, which has 1.94 billion monthly active users as of March 2017, has been ramping up efforts to boost its ad tools, mobile or otherwise. YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and others also have their respective strategies to woo both advertisers and consumers.
But like a double-edged sword, social media can either uplift a brand or jeopardize it. With a few months left before the year ends, several companies have already chalked up their fair share of social media fails. In severe cases, the biggest PR meltdowns on social media translated to a drop in shares or sales. Nevertheless, social media blunders by companies are something to learn from in this tech-reliant world. According to Forbes, some of the most common social media mistakes that companies tend to commit include ignoring their audience, forcing a connection to current events, and the lack of a clear social media strategy. And while bad publicity is still good publicity in some ways, companies need to think twice about going viral if their brand is at stake.
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In this article, we referenced Ranker’s list of the biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017, though using only the top 10 companies which we deemed to be household names. Based on that list, the companies that have suffered the biggest social media fails so far this year are Adidas AG, Beiersdorf AG, McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE:MCD), PepsiCo, Inc. (NYSE:PEP), Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Snap Inc. (NYSE:SNAP), Uber Technologies Inc., Unilever PLC (NYSE:UL), United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL), and Wendys Co. (NASDAQ:WEN).
Check out how they failed and the fallout from it on the following pages.
- United’s Flight Commotion – United Continental Holdings (NYSE:UAL)
This year has been a tough one for United Airlines. In March, the company drew flak online when it barred teenage girls from boarding the plane because they were wearing leggings. Only a few weeks after that, a viral video surfaced online showing security officers dragging a passenger from a United Airlines flight. The incident garnered worldwide attention, prompting United CEO Oscar Munoz to issue an apology. That, unfortunately, did not help to appease customers and netizens. According to CNN Money, United lost close to $1 billion off its market value at the height of the viral video fiasco.
- Dove’s Body Wash Bottles – Unilever PLC (NYSE:UL)
Dove’s attempt to redefine beauty fell a bit short when it introduced six bottles of body wash in various shapes, each of which was supposed to correspond to a certain body type. While the purpose could have been harmless, Dove’s fancily shaped bottles sparked criticism online for their supposed stereotyping of women’s body types. Definitely a mistake big enough to be on our list of biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017.
- Pepsi’s Black Lives Matter Ad – PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE:PEP)
Despite featuring celebrity Kendall Jenner in an ad that meant to depict the Black Lives Matter movement, Pepsi was unable to shake off criticism from online users who thought the campaign trivialized the real struggles of protesters. Elle Hearns, a former organizer for Black Lives Matter, told The New York Times that the ad “plays down the sacrifices people have historically taken in utilizing protests.” The public backlash forced Pepsi to pull the ad. On Wall Street, the soda company’s stock “enjoyed a surge” prior to the ad’s retraction, and fell to losses of 0.12% thereafter, according to The Grio.
- Uber Under Fire Amid Trump’s Immigration Ban – Uber Technologies Inc.
Next up on our list of the biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017 is Uber, which got caught in the middle of a firestorm sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban in January. The company lifted its surge pricing just as New York taxi drivers declared a halt of their operations around the JFK International Airport as a sign of protest against the ban. Many saw Uber’s move as taking advantage of the situation, with the hashtag #DeleteUber making the rounds online.
- Nivea’s “White is Purity” Ad – Beiersdorf AG
Nivea pulled down its “White is Purity” deodorant ad after garnering online criticism for being racist. Many people took to Facebook and Twitter to protest against the slogan, which they deemed as promoting white supremacy. In a statement to The Washington Post, Nivea’s parent company Beiersdorf Global AG said: “Diversity and inclusivity are crucial values of NIVEA. We take pride in creating products that promote beauty in all forms. Discrimination of any kind is simply not acceptable to us as a company, as employees, or as individuals.” If you want to read more about biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017, click next.
- Adidas’ Boston Marathon e-Mail – Adidas AG
In April, Adidas sent out a “poorly worded” e-mail marketing blast congratulating the participants of the 121st Boston Marathon. While the intention seemed harmless, the email’s subject line of “Congrats! You survived the Boston Marathon!!” was considered by many to be in poor taste. Online users reminded the sports apparel brand of the tragic Boston Marathon in 2013 where three people were killed and hundreds injured.
- McDonald’s Anti-Trump Tweet – McDonald’s Corporation (NYSE:MCD)
We are continuing our list of the biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017 with the McDonald’s official Twitter account that spewed a controversial tweet in March that took aim at U.S. President Donald Trump. The tweet, which read, “@realDonaldTrump You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have @BarackObama back, also you have tiny hands,” was the page’s pinned post for about 20 minutes before it got deleted. Of course, netizens were quick to capture a screenshot as the hashtag #BoycottMcDonalds made the rounds online courtesy of Trump supporters. McDonald’s immediately issued an apology and claimed that their account was hacked.
- Samsung Store Catches Fire – Samsung Electronics Co Ltd.
One day before Samsung’s launch of its Galaxy S8 flagship phone, the South Korean company’s store in Singapore was engulfed in flames. As unfortunate as it was, what made the incident worse was that it happened just as Samsung was trying to recover from a huge PR meltdown courtesy of its exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7. The fire was extinguished quickly but not before the news made it to various social media sites.
- Snapchat’s ‘Poor India’ Comment – Snap Inc (NYSE:SNAP)
A controversial remark made by Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel in 2015 resurfaced in 2017 and caused quite a PR firestorm. The young CEO, in reference to his social media network, reportedly said, “This app is only for rich people. I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.” Of course, it did not sit well with many social media users, especially in India, where the hashtag #BoycottSnapchat surfaced on Twitter. Some users also reportedly uninstalled Snapchat and gave the app a one-star rating on the iTunes store.
- Wendy’s Pepe the Frog Meme – Wendys Co (NASDAQ:WEN)
Completing our list of the biggest social media mistakes by companies in 2017 is Wendy’s, which raised the eyebrows of many when it tweeted a Pepe the Frog meme in January. The photo, which showed the company mascot morphed into a frog, sparked a connection to an image used by “white supremacists” to harass and demean. The fastfood chain deleted the tweet and acknowledged the mistake by saying, “Our community manager was unaware of the recent evolution of the Pepe meme’s meaning and this tweet was promptly deleted.”