What We Can Learn From These Social Media Disasters

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Social media can be a great tool for furthering your brand message and engaging customers and prospects. It can also be a minefield of potential disasters that can irrevocably damage your company image.

While companies such as Pizza Hut and Coca-Cola have enjoyed social media success, other companies haven't been quite as fortunate when it comes to engaging in real time.

Ill-timed tweets, canned responses, backfiring hashtags and malicious hackers have all caused trouble for some companies. Here are some things we can learn from three social media disasters.

Don't Misuse Trending Topics


Habitat, a trendy British furniture store, learned a hard lesson about using social media when Twitter was still in its relative infancy in 2009. The company had only been on Twitter a few days when it tried to take advantage of several trending topics by sending an identical promotional message several times in a row while inputting different trending topics such as #Apple, #iPhone and #mms with each tweet. Followers criticized the company for spamming and the tweets were soon deleted.

Taking advantage of a trending topic to promote your company or a product is good way to engage with customers and insert yourself into a wider conversation. But don't blast your fans with a trend overload — especially if the topics are irrelevant. A trending topic such as #NationalBurgerDay represents a great opportunity to engage and improve your brand's image so long as it's attached to a related message and not just sales jargon.

Maintain Password Security


Burger King learned the hard way how important password security is when a hacker took over the company's Twitter account in 2012. The hack changed the account's name to fast food rival "McDonald's" as well as swapped the Burger King logo profile photo for the McDonald's logo. The hacker posted several tweets about drugs and hip hop for about an hour before the account was suspended and Burger King regained control.

It's not uncommon for people or companies to blame negative or ill-timed tweets on hackers, but in this case it seemed Burger King really did fall prey to a cybercriminal. Just as it's important to maintain good security on your company's systems, it's also important to keep your social media accounts secure to prevent losing control of your message.

Don't Mislead Your Fans


It was supposed to be a clever way to thank fans for their support, but German soccer club Bayern Munich earned the ire of its backers with a clumsily executed social media campaign in 2012. Bayern led fans and journalists to believe that a new player would be announced during a news conference streamed to the club's Facebook page. Instead, the fans were named the "star player" and were treated to their Facebook profile photo and name appearing on a Bayern jersey as a reward for being a fan.

After hours of predicting who the new player might be, the fans were understandably irate when things weren't what they seemed. Even if you think the payoff is noble — such as recognizing fans for supporting the team — it's never a good idea to mislead consumers in an attempt to lure them to your social media accounts.

For more tips on how to be professionally social, read our post "The Good and the Bad of Social Media Marketing."