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Chris Smith

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How NOT To Use Social Media For Your Business


The rise of social media has been revolutionary over the last 10 years, with most businesses, no matter their size, now seeing it as a vital channel in their marketing strategy. It’s stressed often how important it is for your brand to have a presence on social media, but it’s just as important to conduct and monitor your activity properly. Many brands, including large multi-nationals, have fallen victim to bad social media campaigns with some damaging consequences. We’re here to discuss how not to use social media, to help you avoid falling prey to the same trap.

Breach of data protection

With the recent dressing down of Mark Zuckerberg over the allegations of Facebook selling user’s information, data protection is at the forefront of business minds. General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, will be launched on the 25th of May and will change the way that businesses process data. It also details that strict fines will be enforced with any breach of this new policy, fines that could exceed up to 20 million euros.

This, in theory, should limit the amount of social media mishaps that happen in relation to data protection, however the previous Data Protection Act didn’t stop a few brands from slipping up.

One recent, worrying incident of this was from T Mobile Austria; when an employee revealed that they stored user passwords on their system without any sort of encryption to protect private data. The employee revealed this on Twitter after being probed by a customer and was met with outrage from their Twitter followers (and the rest of the internet). Shockingly, the employee’s response to Twitter’s reaction was that “they couldn’t see the problem” as their server security was tight. Safe to say, after the uproar, T Mobile Austria subsequently changed their policy to start scrambling customer passwords, so they could not be stolen if their security was breached.

Many more embarrassing incidents have happened with brands breaching data protection on their social accounts, including the US press secretary potentially tweeting out his own password. This stresses how important it is to double check any social activity related to sensitive data to avoid embarrassing scenarios and more importantly, avoid financial and reputational damage.


Transparency can be a vital part of many businesses’ brand voice in order to build trust and long-lasting relationships with their customers; but how much is too much?

A case of transparency gone terribly wrong is eco and cost-friendly skincare brand, Deciem. Their Instagram account, which once previously hosted images and information about their much-loved products, was taken over by their founder, Brandon Truaxe, who liked to share a little too much information. Dubbed a ‘meltdown’ by WWD, Truaxe has documented the sacking of his co-CEO and entire US-based staff on social media, and has shared a number of bizarre posts from dead animals and rubbish floating in the water to a Instagram story asking followers to dial 911 because he needed help.

Many have called this approach to social media a “breath of fresh air”, and Deciem is projected to still earn $300 million this year, but it’s not an approach that anyone would advise. Their investors, Estee Lauder, are said to be "quietly concerned and watching" – showing that too much transparency is far too risky for any brand.

Lack of Research

‘Research is key’ – it sounds obvious, but some brands still haven’t mastered how research can mean make or break when it comes to their social activity. Hastily drafted, and poor researched posts have resulted in issues for many brands.

Burberry live tweeted from the 2017 Baftas that actor Dev Patel was wearing a Burberry suit on the red carpet – a perfectly innocent post, except for the fact that they posted an image of another British actor, Riz Ahmed.

This led to outrage on social media with many users accusing the brand of suggesting “all brown actors look the same” – and a very red face for Burberry.

American Apparel too forgot to research properly when they posted a Tumblr image of what they thought was smoke to signify the 4th of July. The image ended up being an edited version of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding, in which seven crew members died. Tumblr users were quick to point out the brand’s blunder, but it just goes to show why it is so important to research first if you are sharing non-branded content.

Wrong use of hashtags

DiGiorno, a popular American pizza brand, have also fallen to the same fate. The employee controlling their Twitter account saw the hashtag #WhyIStayed trending and thought they would join in on the fun without researching what the hashtag was referring to.

DiGiorno tweeted “#WhyIStayed - You had pizza” before realizing that the hashtag referred to a domestic violence campaign, with women all over the internet using it to discuss why they stayed in abusive relationships. The brand of course apologized but did not escape the Twitter tirade that came after them for trying to capitalize off such a sensitive subject.

‘Hijacking’ hashtags has become an unfortunate trend for brands trying to utilize serious events to promote themselves. Clothing brand Gap was blasted for tweeting to followers to stay safe in hurricane Sandy and shop on their website. Since Sandy was a heavily destructive storm, resulting in the loss of multiple lives, this was seen as highly inappropriate and insensitive. The brand removed their tweet but it lives on as a stark reminder to always post appropriate and respectful content that can’t be taken the wrong way by anyone.

Auto-bots gone wrong

As cool and convenient it can be to use bots when posting content, it’s still very important to double check that these tools are being used properly.

Many brands have fallen victim to abuse of their bots including the New England Patriots with their campaign to celebrate being the first in the NFL to reach one million followers. Fans were encouraged to re-tweet a post by the Patriots and were rewarded with an image of a jersey with their twitter handle on it. Unfortunately, one user got the better of this campaign, and the brand tweeted out jerseys with racial slurs on the back. The post was live for an hour with 1.5k retweets before it was spotted and removed – a perfect example of why it is important to monitor your social activity constantly, especially if you are using auto-bots to post or schedule.

If your business is new to social media, it’s important to use each platform properly and get the most out of the channel for your brand. These are examples of the extremes of social media gone wrong, showing that even big brands can fall prey to a social media mishap that can blow up to catastrophic consequences. Mistakes happen, but hopefully these examples can help brands avoid any big issues with social activity that may be costly, financially and in terms of reputation.


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