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The worst social media screw-ups of 2011: Live from Social Media Week — Suxorz Awards

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Brands & Campaigns

This post is by Heidi Cohen, principal of Riverside Marketing Strategies. For more of her analysis of the Suxorz, including what these failures can teach you, check out her blog.

Face it: It’s easy to select the awards for the best of something. You can watch trending social media shares, favorite lists, comments, purchases or other factors to decide what came out on top. But when it comes to the worst-in-class, it’s more challenging. You have to differentiate the no-names from the out-right failures, based on their poor showing on a variety of metrics. That’s what distinguishes the “winners” of this year’s “Suxorz” awards as the worst social media of 2011.

This year’s Suxorz panel chose the worst of social media across an array of topics. Among the top social media taste-makers were David Berkowitz of 360i, writer Twanna Hines, Brian Morrissey of Digiday and B.L. Ochman of What’s Next Blog. It was moderated by Henry Copeland of BlogAds, while Jon Accarrino of Definition 6 played DJ.

Now, without further ado, here are 2011’s worst social media sins. All of the options are included so you can get a feel for the variety of issues that were discussed. (Note: Because links weren’t shared during the event, I tried to get relevant links where possible.)

Tin ears. These social media examples didn’t get the reason what they did was wrong.

  1. Condom-maker Olla sends friend requests from unborn children. Regardless of your view of contraceptives, this is wrong on so many levels. To make a bad move worse, Olla then branded the hell out of it.
  2. Nikon says cameras take photos, not people. It’s not a good practice to tell customers they don’t matter. It’s going to piss them off. To add insult to injury, Nikon deleted the comments on Facebook.
  3. Winner: Ashton Kutcher tweets pro Bro Paterno. In Brian Morrissey’s view, Kutcher’s tweet is the worst case of social media because a second-rate actor is making social media seem grubby.
  4. Jockey International asks “Can #Tebow WIN you FREE underpants?” in promoted hashtag #IfTebowWins.

Don’t mess with bloggers. Like other forms of public relations, many companies reach out to bloggers. In the process, they miss the boat in a variety of ways.

  1. ConAgra Foods, with agency Ketchum, misleads bloggers. ConAgra invited food bloggers to an event where they discuss gourmet food — and then serves them frozen food. Bet you can’t guess what the bloggers did next!
  2. Yahoo! exec CCs fired bloggers on invite. While this is a social media issue because it involves bloggers, it’s also just bad management and e-mail usage. How can you invite bloggers to an event and expect good feedback after your organization has just given them the boot?
  3. Kourtney Kadashian’s PR guy trash-talks “The Bloggess.” A PR guy made a mistake and wouldn’t back down while a Texas-based mommy blogger set off a firestorm. While the PR person was wrong, the blogger felt overly entitled and wouldn’t let go.
  4. Winner: Ragu spams dad blogger with video making fun of him. Another case of sending the wrong message to the wrong audience: a video that says when mom cooks, it rocks, and when dads cooks, it’s bad. Oops.

Fun with hashtags. When it comes to hashtags, marketer beware, because these babies can come back to haunt you.

  1. Kenneth Cole rides on #Cairo coattails. In the midst of the Egyptian revolution last February, Kenneth Cole used the #Cairo hashtag to talk about their spring collection. While Cole understood the hashtag would get him a bigger audience, he didn’t get that using an event like a revolution to promote your clothes was wrong on so many levels!
  2. Entenmann’s piggybacks on the Casey Anthony #notguilty decision. Another case of a company misusing a hashtag related to a sad news item to promote their product by association.
  3. Toyota spams Super Bowl tweeters with @CamryEffect. Toyota set up several similar Twitter accounts and sent messages to anyone using Superbowl hashtags. While Toyota later apologized after the fact, they were like a kid who didn’t understand what he did wrong.
  4. Winner: Durex South Africa makes jokes women don’t find funny #DurexJoke. (Warning: Link contains non-PG references.) Durex didn’t understand how women would get upset by these jokes.

Well played. In this category, companies came through and did the right thing on social media.

  1. AA faces down Alec Baldwin on Facebook. American Airlines pulled Alec Baldwin from a flight for not turning off an electronic device before that flight — and the company let people know about it on Facebook. Well played for being open when one of your customers gets upset when you enforce your rules.
  2. Heinz rebounds from balsamic vinegar ketchup e-commerce bottleneck. After launching their latest ketchup flavor exclusively on Facebook, Heinz had problems with their e-commerce platform, leaving many of their more than 850,000 fans mad. Two days later, Heinz shipped 35,000 bottles of balsamic vinegar ketchup.
  3. Freshdesk fights back with words against competitor Zendesk. Freshdesk took a fight with a competitor off of Twitter and defended themselves by showing where there were issues.
  4. Winner: Tucker Max uses sponsored tweets. Tucker Max, author of ” I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” used sponsored tweets and they backfired. As they say, you need truth in advertising.

Hijacked twitter hashtags. These stories are all cases of not properly minding your hashtags.

  1. Cat Fancy magazine (not). If you’re not on social media, it’s understandable to get blindsided by a problem. But in this case, Cat Fancy magazine’s editor had a Twitter account. Maybe she should have learned how to make her tweets count!
  2. #McDstories hijacked. This is a clear case of not thinking through the implications of what customers will say. What happened? Customers told the hamburger giant how bad their food is!
  3. Winner: Netflix launches Quikster. Netflix had a double whammy with this move. Forgetting the “Do No Harm Rule,” Netflix changed their service that no one wanted. Even worse, they couldn’t get the Twitter account for the name they chose. (Hint: May be they should have tried another name?)
  4. #QantasLuxury hijacking. During a labor dispute with pilots that left flights grounded, Qantas launched a Twitter campaign. Talk about bad timing.

Trying too hard. If you don’t understand social media or even a specific platform, it’s not a good idea to use it for your marketing.

  1. Winner: Actor Woody Harrelson spams Reddit’s AMA (aka Ask Me Anything). Woody Harrelson used this platform to promote his new film “Rampart.” He didn’t understand that he had to answer questions about anything, not just the movie. People called it the crappiest AMA and ramparts became a meme.
  2. Burson-Marstellar urges bloggers to write anti-Google op-eds for Facebook. This is a lesson in how not to do blogger outreach. Even worse, it’s one of the biggest PR firms.
  3. LG, with Ogilvy, tries to pay “brand ambassadors.” While trying to reach influencers, Ogilvy crossed the line with this blogger by offering to pay. For this blogger, at least, it wasn’t about the money.
  4. pulls ads from “All-American Muslim.” To start with, there’s a problem whenever your CEO is writing “We’re not bigots.” Instead of saying we made a mistake and turning the incident into a teachable moment, Kayak missed.

Politics. In an election year, there’s sure to be social media gaffs.

  1. Rick Perry’s jacket. A spoof on Rick Perry’s anti-gay ads, which compares them to the film “Brokeback Mountain.”
  2. Pets with Newt. This spoof plays off of the Mitt Romney comment about taking the family dog on top of the car. While Newt seems to being doing well with an unidentified animal, his contest “Is your pet cool enough to be a pet with Newt” got no response.
  3. Facebookers punk Dmitry Medvedev. While this campaign was in Russian, it’s as if Dmitry Medvedev is the Ashton Kutcher of dictators. If you’re a dictator, why are you on social media? It’s not your image.
  4. Winner: Former Rep. Anthony Weiner. To put it mildly, Anthony Weiner doesn’t get social media. He sent messages he thought were private but the photos were public. Of course, his name made the issue all the more juicy for social media. #FAIL ( Here’s my commentary on the Weiner scandal.)

Looking at the Suxorz selections and the winners in each category, most of the social media issues came down to sexism or stupidity. The lesson for marketers, PR professionals and brand champions is to make sure you understand the social media platform before you launch your initiative and use some old fashioned common sense. If you’re not sure, then at least get some other perspectives, preferably your customers!

In your opinion, what was the worst social media screw up of 2011, and why do you feel that way?