Top 10 Social Media Fails of 2013

Come on, now. You knew this was coming.

Before we get started, a few points:

1. The entire PRNewser team extends our deepest sympathies to the real-life “people” involved in these incidents.

2. Comments are open, so please denigrate the nominees loudly.

3. We are very open to more (dis)honorable mentions. We wouldn’t be able to write these sorts of things without the insights of our flacky audience, so please feel free to yell at ya’ boy, girl, other girl and our editor who is not named Jason Chupick.

OK, now click through for what has already become a sad (but informative!) annual tradition…

Dishonorable Mention: HMV Fired an Intern…Who Knew the Twitter Password. HMV, otherwise known as the “home of (outdated) entertainment”, had to layoff hundreds of its staffers early this year. Much to its chagrin, a few former employees weren’t happy with the pink slip. The problem, of course, was that one of the dudes they fired also ran the company’s Twitter account. So…yeah.

We felt their pain upon watching a disgruntled minion relieve some stress by live tweeting the very HR meeting in which the firing took place and using the hashtag #hmvXFactorFiring so no one would miss a beat. In the process, we all learned that HMV’s marketing director had a limited knowledge of social media and that the Twitter account was initially established by an unpaid intern. Revealing!

MEMO to Brands Everywhere: Develop a system that requires two people to enter identical passwords at once. Or just make sure you know exactly who has access to your Twitter feed at any given time, and don’t leave it in the hands of any single, potentially angry employee.

Now for the real list:

10. Burger King Got Big Mac’d on Twitter. This little incident may not be the reason that brands no longer use “PASSWORD123” for top accounts, but in answering our own question we can say that it definitely wasn’t a PR Win when some whimsical hack found his way into the fast food feed and made the following funnies:

Changed its avatar and handle name:

Relocated a few locations to stereotypical and questionable parts of society:


…and then went way overboard with this unfortunate picture:

This isn’t exactly “brand messaging,” but apparently everyone was just a little too busy at Burger King to notice because it took them more than half a day to correct the mess. BK certainly dropped the ball when it came to “paying attention” and allowed the hacker to have it his way (see what we did there), but the chain’s biggest competitor did offer an olive branch. Sort of.

9. The Economy Finally Got the Best of Nokia New Zealand. If you follow mobile phone sales, you know the King of the Mobile Mountain used to be Nokia (emphasis on used to be) before the company experienced rounds and rounds and rounds of layoffs due to poor sales and a couple of things called “iPhones” and “Androids”. Certain employees are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and that pressure led to this fun-but-NSFW message.

Advantage: Pressure. Cue David Bowie and Queen

8. JP Morgan’s Vice Chair Felt the Wrath of…Everyone. Here’s your shining of example of either a really bad case of arrogance or a bunch of C-suite suits cursed with head-in-ass disease. In a display of misguided narcissism, JP Morgan thought it would be a grandiose idea for its Vice Chair to have a #twitchat. A rabid gang of rioters met the Chase crowd armed with flaming torches and rusty pitchforks:

And there is so much wonderful more deserved carnage for JP Morgan. To wit, they politely tapped out, said “Uncle” and tweeted this:

Good times for tweeters, bad times for Chase.

7. Thanks to Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, We All Experienced a Twitter Dream. Chef Ramsay tends to know how to push the buttons of any poor schlep within yelling range, and when this bimbo baker flipped her lid she also cemented her status as a social media celebrity in the worst possible way. As we all stand up and applaud the lunacy of Amy’s Bakery in Scottsdale, Ariz., let’s remember that this is a woman that stole her employees’ tips, picked fights with others and fired more than 100 people.

6. The Onion Called Nine-Year-Old Quvenzhane Wallis the “C” Word. Limits exist when it comes to that depraved combination of twisted wit and Tourette’s—even for an explicitly satirical “news” site. We  found Beasts of the Southern Wild to be a bit too big for its britches, but did its child star really deserve this NSFW blast? Uh uh.

Onion CEO Steve Hannah received so much hate mail that even he issued a sincere apology, calling the tweet “crude and offensive.” We blame Family Guy. Bad Seth MacFarlane.

5. Home Depot: More Saving. More Racism. The lovely home repair store has sponsorships in many places, because those relationships benefit the brand and the bottom line. However, what they did on ESPN’s College Gameday didn’t help anyone except bloggers who cover the dumb things brands do.

That’s three people rocking a beat on buckets, one of whom happens to be wearing a monkey suit. Of course, it was the agency’s fault, but the blame still created a huge cleanup on aisle nine. Yes, you can do it, Home Depot. But flacks can help. Call us.

4. London’s Lotun Airport Thought Tragedy Was Fun. In March, Luton Airport wanted to let anxious passengers know that even when it snows, safety is the airport’s top priority. Yes, the Brits are known for sense of humor drier than melba toast—but how did no one notice the massive problem with this message?

There it is: A picture of a 2005 crash in Chicago in which people died, including a six-year-old. In case it wasn’t obvious enough, this will never be an acceptable way to make a joke.

3. Kmart Made the Lamest Black Friday Excuse. Big box stores decided Black Friday wasn’t enough—they needed to push their way into Thursday, otherwise known as “Thanksgiving”. Our favorite flacks have told us how much they hate this trend, but at the same time we don’t operate a store that thrives on enticing the brightest lights in our society with negligible savings on a TV.

Kmart hit back at the backlash by claiming that the move was all about helping its employees enjoy a more fulfilling holiday season (seriously):

We shouldn’t have to explain why this is such a tone-deaf message. And in case you didn’t get the point, Kmart posted it more than 100 times. Let’s go down the checklist: Respond quickly? Check. Stay on top of it? Check. Learn to speak like a normal third grader? Not so much. Be authentic with your message? Uh…

2. Chrysler Dropped the F Bomb and Offended Everyone in Detroit. This was the tweet heard ’round the world early in 2013. In lieu of a government bailout of the car industry, car companies bringing it on the Super Bowl advertising front and others beating back bankruptcy, we got this NSFW gem about the drivers in the motor vehicle Mecca:

Jalopnik found it, posted it and sparked a hubbub across the country. Traffic must have been frustrating down on “the Lodge” (as the cool kids call the M10), because this dude put Detroit drivers on blast. After two hours that had to feel like two days, Chrysler deleted the tweet and offered this apoplectic apologies for its shareholders and consumers:

Naturally, as most brands do this in cases like this one, Chrysler blamed their agency and “re-examined” their contract. This is why companies and agencies should have a social media policy we like to call “accountability.” It’s a simple two-step process:

1. Agency writes and posts.

2. Company approves and hits ‘enter’.

This is the way we fold our clothes, kids.

1. Epicurious Proved It Has Terrible Taste. Predictable choice? Sure—and there’s a reason for that. The Boston Marathon was marred by incomparable tragedy and someone thought that a sales announcement would successfully double as a statement of solidarity. That assumption was so obviously wrong that we don’t quite know what to say.

One attempt apparently wasn’t enough, and the apology didn’t go so well either:

Get that? The tweet seemed insensitive. Seemed?! Talk about adding insult to injury.

The act of repeating the message only confirmed how inappropriate it was, of course. That day, everyone on Twitter offered Epicurious something to eat (no word on if they asked for salt with that sh*t). It’s bad enough that the tweet went out, but the follow-up amplified the problem. MEMO to anyone on social media: When a national tragedy occurs, it’s in your best interest to cancel all promo messages. If you have to, you can turn the computer off and just walk away. Quietly.

So…2013 was a terrible year for some brands, wasn’t it? For the record, we totally knew that would be the case.

Now bring on 2014!