We’ve all heard about a major brand that has decided to launch a social media campaign, without much thought and for it to go wrong and backfire unleashing a torrent of bad PR for the company. Often, companies will try to run their social media campaigns on “the cheap”, and getting employees to execute their competitions or campaigns who may not have the pre-requisite social media savvy for it to be a success. By looking at a few recent examples as case studies we can ascertain exactly what went wrong and learn how not to run a social media marketing campaign.

Epic Fail #1 – Qantas (Australia)

Australian airline Qantas came under enormous flack for a serious of badly executed Twitter campaigns. First they were forced to apologize for a Twitter competition that gave sports fans tickets for going black face, and not having learned from this experience they shortly launched another Twitter competition. This next social media campaign couldn’t have gone worse for the airline, encouraging Twitter users to enter by answering the question, “What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury.” Not having a very good reputation before this competition, with plenty of disgruntled passengers experiencing a far from luxurious experience on Qantas flights this open question was only going to go one way. Here are a selection of some of the better (humorous) responses, although for Qantas they probably didn’t see the funny side:

My #QantasLuxury experience would be no matter what time or duration of the flight a proper meal is served a cookie is not a meal its a joke

A plane that doesn’t have an exploding engine! #QantasLuxury

#QantasLuxury is a massive executive bonus while your workers starve and your former customers choke

#QantasLuxury is a complimentary cheap hotel room because your cynical airline left you stranded in Adelaide, of all places. Adelaide.

With feedback like this from its customers, it’s not surprising Qantas went awfully quiet during this campaign. Clearly no one was on hand before launching to give them a few lessons in Online Reputation Management. Since this debacle, even parody Twitter accounts have been set-up (and shut down) such as this one, which is going strong (check out their pictures). Qantas made matters worse after these events by pursuing Twitter to shut down these fake Twitter accounts. Sometimes it’s just better to let these things slide.

Epic Fail #2 – Waitrose (UK)

More recently UK supermarket Waitrose, which has a reputation of catering towards the higher end grocery shopper namely the middle/upper-middle class, Again, we see the branded use of the #hashtag epically backfiring after Waitrose encouraged the Twittosphere to complete the following sentence: “I only shop at Waitrose because of….#waitrosereasons” was always asking for trouble given Waitrose public brand perception. Some of the funnier responses include:

twitter waitrose hashtag fail

Waitrose managed to see the funnier side of this “backfire”:

waitrose twitter hashtag campaign fail?

Many are now taking to Twitter to say this was a deliberate social media strategy from Waitrose, any PR is good PR so they say, as it’s certainly encouraged a lot of buzz and chatter on Twitter. However, it’s dubious if this is the case, as more encouragement from the Waitrose Twitter account would have been seen and perhaps even a prize for the funniest Tweet. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if this was a deliberate attempt to promote engagement and enhance Waitrose’s Social Media Presence positively or if this was an epic fail on their part.

Epic Fail #3

We’ve saved what definitely not to do as our last Twitter epic fail, which resulted in a great deal of outcry and was a shocking gaffe from an online fashion retailer. The social media manager for CelebBoutique was probably swiftly handed their exit papers after this was tweeted shortly after the Aurora killings in Colorado: “#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress.”

It appears this tweet was just a gross mistake and arose from the fact that CelebBoutique employed a PR agency outside the US that wasn’t keeping up with the news that day. But it sparked an outcry, and the company had to pull the tweet and apologize causing embarrassment and bad publicity for the brand.

The lesson learned from this mistake is to always be aware of what’s happening in the World, i.e. keeping up with the News, and if something is trending find out more by searching for the Tweets using the hashtag, rather than blindly mentioning without understanding what the noise is about.

Lessons can be learned from these epic fails, and if you’re a major brand think very carefully before launching a new #hashtag social media event. There are several tools that can help you strategise and plan your campaign as well as management tools to help your analyse and optimise your Twitter channel. Tools such as FollowerWonk, HootSuite and VerticalResponse can cover everything from scheduling through to growing your organic user base and finding users with lots of Klout.

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