The Biggest Social Media Marketing Blunders of 2016 and the Lessons we Can Learn From Them

While Social Media might not stand out in people’s minds when thinking back on 2016, it was a banner year for Social Media. 2016 gave us some of our favourite Social Media Marketing campaigns. Our personal favourite was Xbox’s sleek and attractive Instagram campaign which you can take a look at here.

In addition to being a year filled with great Social Media Marketing, 2016 was also a year rife with Social Media Marketing mishaps and blunders. While Social Media mistakes can be somewhat embarrassing and costly for some brands and businesses, such as HMV UK’s 2013 Twitter take over, there is a silver lining when Social Media falls flat. Every Social Media Marketing misstep presents marketers and brands with an opportunity to learn.

In this post, we will be looking back at some of the biggest Social Media Marketing blunders of 2016, and what we can learn from them.

The Biggest Social Media Marketing Mistakes of 2016

Tay and You on Twitter: In 2016, Microsoft unveiled Tay. Tay, is actually pretty cool. It’s an A.I. Twitter chatbot who was designed to engage with a younger generation of tech savvy teens on Twitter by learning their speech patterns and emulating the way that they engage with one another on Social Media.

Tay learned a lot from her Twitter audience, and by March of 2016, Microsoft was scrambling to delete a series of racist and inappropriate tweets. You can take a look at some of the things that Twitter taught Tay to say here.

The Takeaway: With any new Social Media Marketing initiative, draw up a crisis-action plan that is swiftly actionable. Have it at the ready when you launch your new campaign and be prepared to act quickly to control any damage.

Tasteless Twin Towers ad: In one of the most tasteless advertising campaigns SoBu Social Media Marketing has ever come across, a mattress company called Miracle Mattress created a Facebook ad aimed at capitalising on the tragedy of 9/11. The ad concludes with two men collapsing into a tower of mattress. The had since been posted on YouTube.

People were so offended by the Facebook ad that the company’s employees began receiving death threats from the public and the store was eventually forced to close down. It did eventually re-open, but only after Lisa Paterson, a woman widowed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, expressed public forgiveness of Miracle Mattress’ insensitivity.

The Takeaway: Don’t attempt to capitalise on loss or heartache. Insensitivity is one of the quickest ways to turn your audience against you. Instead of trying to profit off of 9/11, or other tragic events, focus on notable holidays and spread the good cheer that is inherent at these touching times of the year.

Capitalising on Celebrity Deaths: 2016 marked the passing of some of our favourite and most beloved celebrity figures. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Mohammad Ali, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder...we could keep listing the names, but we’re getting too sad.

Unfortunately, some brands were quick to try and capitalise on these celebrity deaths in their Social Media Marketing campaigns. Cheerios tried to profit off of Prince’s death, while Crocs thought you might be more inclined to buy their shoes after David Bowie passed away. Perhaps the most tasteless attempt to capitalise off of a celebrity death, however, was Cinnabon’s attempt to pay tribute to Carrie Fisher after her passing in December.

The Takeaway: DO NOT try to get your brand undue attention by chiming in on loss or negativity. The only time it is appropriate to comment on loss or tragedy, is if it affects you directly. For an example of an appropriate way to pay tribute to fallen actors, take a look at how Star Trek commemorated the life of Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. If you’re still not clear on the appropriateness of mentioning tragedy in your brand’s Social Media, this article lists three basic rules for posting about death and tragedy.

Playboy Model Body-shames on Snapchat: Earlier this year, Playboy model, or more aptly: FORMER playboy model, thanks to her poor decisions when it comes to marketing herself on Snapchat, decided to post a selfie of her in the change room at the gym. The photo she posted, which we are not going to share due to its inappropriateness, showed Dani Mathers in the foreground covering her smiling face, while a gym-goer showered naked in the background. The photo was captioned with “If I can’t unsee this, either can you”.

The backlash over Mathers' Snapchat post was significant. Not only did she lose her gig with Playboy, she also faced criminal charges as a result of her actions. In addition to the ripples the post made in Mathers’ life, many Social Media users were quick to condemn her for body-shaming as well

You can read more about the incident here.

The Takeaway: Think before you post. Ask yourself what value your Social Media post is going to have to your online audience. Ask yourself if your Social Media post will be taken negatively or positively. If what you are about share can be seen as negative or hurtful, in anyway at all, skip it and post something more important and useful to your audience.

Boaty McBoatface: Britain’s National Environment Research Council attempted to engage the public with an interactive campaign asking the public to vote on the name for their new, million-dollar research vessel. Unfortunately, the public at large cannot be trusted, and the winning name was Boaty McBoatface.

Rather than accept the name, the NERC’s CEO, Duncan Wingham, opted to call their new ship the RRS Sir David Attenborough. While the public expressed some contempt and disappointment over the name swap, Wingham was able to appease them by calling one of the vessel’s mini research subs, Boaty McBoatface.

The Takeaway: This is an example of a Social Media blunder that was handled well. The mistake was in trusting the public. Not unlike lawyers questioning witnesses, marketers need to consider how their audience is going to react to their Social Media Marketing campaign. If you cannot predict how you audience will react, that leaves you open for potential backlash. Bill Cosby’s 2014 #CosbyMeme Social Media fiasco serves as a more detrimental example of this point.
The NERC’s action and diplomatic solution to the situation, however, is a great example of crisis management when it comes to Social Media Marketing.

What do you think of our list of the biggest Social Media Marketing blunders of 2016? Was there one we missed? Let us know in the comments.