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Social Media Fails of 2014 and How To Avoid Them

Social media is one of the most powerful things in the world. It is a supremely effective tool that, when used correctly, helps people and brands connect with each other.

The reach into homes, personal computers and cell phones is unparalleled elsewhere in the business world. Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook literally put your message directly into the hands of your fans and followers.

Most people wouldn’t allow that same level of access to an actual person from a business across the street. Such an entry into your customers’ worlds isn’t free, though. People expect that if you enter their homes, you’ll act responsibly and civil. A brand is built by trust, and breaking that trust is a serious offense.

With that in mind, let’s look at three social media fails of 2014.


Hashtags are generally pretty great. They allow your post to be linked and categorized by a chosen word or phrase and found by a much greater audience than they otherwise would be. For a brand, such a tool helps build exposure and gives you greater access to potential customers you haven’t reached yet.

However, misuse can cause problems. Sometimes, it can be best not to post at all. Not every popular hashtag should be used as a way to expand a brand’s reach.

digiorno tweet fail

This brand spectacularly failed in its approach to hashtags.

The hashtag #WhyIStayed was trending in response to the domestic violence situation of pro football star Ray Rice and his wife Janay. Women across the internet used the hashtag to share similar stories of why they stayed in abusive relationships.

This was an extremely emotional and sensitive subject for those involved and clearly not a place to sell pizza.


Holidays and special occasions are a great way to put a unique message out about your brand. A good social media post on these days adds something pleasant to a user’s timeline. Think of 4th of July special offers or Thanksgiving well wishes.

This tweet linking sleep medicine with a major civil rights leader turned off more than a few people. A dream brought on by your product is not the same as the dream in Martin Luther King’s speech. ZzzQuil tried to force its way into a forum that again was not the best way for it to get the message out. The benefits of having a special post on this holiday are clearly outweighed by the negative feedback it received.


Even an institution like the police can have a problem because of an ill-conceived post. Social media is a great place to engage your audience, but surprises can happen when you fail to protect the brand. By asking for followers to upload pictures with the police with a special hashtag, the NYPD underestimated the possibility of negative responses.

And of course, they got completely torched.

The photos shared did little to spread a positive brand image and certainly did not achieve the goals of the NYPD. The message here is simple: When inviting a discussion on social media, frame the conversation in the most brand-friendly ways possible, and always consider the worst-case scenario.

Avoiding Similar Disasters

It can be funny and sad to see the failures of other brands on social media, but for your own brand, the same issues would be very serious. To avoid repeating their failures, it’s best to try to learn from their mistakes. Here are some takeaways to consider before you start your next social media campaign:

  • Show restraint before posting. Not everything needs to be a vessel for your brand.
  • Ask yourself: Does this post really send the right message to our audience?
  • If you are worried about negative feedback, control the message to ease these concerns.
  • Don’t ask a question if you’re not prepared for the answers you’ll receive.
  • If all else fails, stick to the things that identify your brand. Stick to what you’re good at.