Social media for brands is now what a website was for them 10 years ago—the cost of entry. Some brands have an irrational fear of social media and with all of the high profile fails in recent news, it’s only getting harder to convince more conventional brands to join that conversation.

Yes, conversation.

Not an ad.

Not a post.

Not a promo.

A conversation.

You can rely on scheduling, but do you risk showing the world you are not actively listening? Are you talking at them rather than with them? You need to be nimble and allow your social media manager the flexibility to respond in real-time. The problem is when you are part of an active conversation, it’s harder to avoid the occasional mishap.

Whether it’s a typo or a major fail á la @USAirWays “plane debacle,” it’s all about how your brand responds. When you finally get to a place where you are part of your brand’s conversation on social media, only then have you have truly moved your brand into the 21st century.

Here are some noteworthy examples of awesomely bad brand slip-ups that serve as lessons learned on what to do (and not do) in a moment of PR crisis:


The Brand: @KitchenAid – 2012 Presidential Debates

The Backstory: Beloved culinary appliance inexplicably tweets grammatically incorrect rant about Barack Obama, including a dead grandmother zing, during the live 2012 presidential debates telecast.


High Profile Social Media Fails“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president”


The Backlash: If that’s what your mixer is thinking, who knows what your toaster has to say? Immediately, negative comments about the brand started to surface.

The Lesson: Have accountability for your mistakes and take immediate steps.

Within a short window of time, an apology was issued by Cynthia Soledad (head of KitchenAid). Her firm statement and quick action provided some transparency about the circumstances, including the termination of the employee manning the account.


The Brand: @DiGiornoPizza — #WhyIStayed

The Backstory: After NFL player Ray Rice faced indefinite suspension from the league after a damaging domestic violence video became public, the hashtag #WhyIStayed emerged on Twitter. Without any due diligence into its origin (abuse victims related stories about why they remained in abusive relationships), DiGornio tweeted this:


High Profile Social Media Fails“#WhyIStayed You had pizza.”


The Backlash: DiGornio has a reputation for playful, topical tweets, but their misstep here was too big to ignore.

The Lesson: Do your homework.

DiGornio admitted that they should have looked into the reason why the hashtag was trending before they tried to capitalize on it, and their social manager began sending out personal mea culpa messages to users as they came in. It showed accountability and a humanness to the brand.


The Brand: @USAirWays — Plane Porn

The Backstory: A US Airways customer innocently tweets for assistance and receives more than they bargained for. A lot more.


High Profile Social Media Fails“We welcome your feedback, Elle. If your travel is complete, you can detail it here for a review and follow-up: pic.twitter.com/vbeYgCuG25”


The Backlash: A link to a photo included in the tweet from @USAirways was so very NSFW that it became an instant legend. Was this the digital equivalent of the JetBlue flight attendant quitting his job in a blow-up emergency slide blaze of glory or was this really just an awful mistake? And why did it sit unrecognized?

The Lesson: Being quick to reply doesn’t mean sacrificing checks and balances. Take a second to review your work before it goes live.

Details began to emerge that a photo flagged for inappropriateness ended up on a clipboard, inadvertently cut and pasted into a routine response. Following up quickly to customer service complaints, concerns and questions is paramount for any brand, but how this managed to occur in the first place was puzzling.


The Brand: @ChryslerAutos — Motor City

The Backstory: Carmaker Chrysler invested millions into its 2011 campaign celebrating their Detroit roots, featuring Eminem’s “8 Mile.” It then displays unparalleled road rage during peak morning commute hours via the following tweet:


High Profile Social Media Fails“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to  f*@!ing drive.”


The Backlash: We don’t even need to explain why this is 50 shades of bad.

The Lesson: Don’t mix brand and personal accounts. Ever.

If you choose to play account roulette, establishing a policy on mixing or sharing devices for personal and professional use both establishes accountability and acknowledges the risks upfront. If you can avoid this risk, please do so. Having a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency plan also avoids scrambling and helps contain and address the issue immediately. Chrysler terminated their agreement with the agency handling the account.


The Brand: @JCPenney — Tweeting With Mittens

The Backstory: Airtime during sporting’s biggest event isn’t cheap. But @JCPenney may have had the last laugh during some sweet free advertising during the 2014 Super Bowl with an ill-conceived stunt on Twitter.


High Profile Social Media Fails“Toughdown Seadawks!! Is sSeattle going toa runaway wit h this???”


The Backlash: Second screen experiences during live television events are commonplace, and the Super Bowl is no stranger to this. So when retailer JCPenney, not known for their sporting skills (sorry), started getting serious retweets and share of voice on Twitter for seemingly drunk tweeting the game, everyone was watching to see what would happen next.

The Lesson: Go long! Think your strategy through, all the way.

If your message is not clear, your audience will miss the intention behind it. If you missed the initial tweet that set the mittens stage, all the subsequent tweets merely looked like a drunk mess. There was no reinforcement or reminder of the mittens (a mere hashtag would have sufficed). Their messaging was not clear and they had clearly not through how to execute this idea beyond the first tweet.