Social media disasters of 2012 (and what we can learn from them)

One of the main reasons many companies fear social media is they worry that they will be opening themselves up to criticism, perhaps even a PR disaster.

In truth, people will say things about your brand on social media channels whether you are using them or not. Using social media means you can respond to criticisms, perhaps even turning a negative comment into something positive.

However, like all communications channels, saying the wrong thing can easily make a bad situation worse.  Here's a look at some of the most memorable social media mistakes of 2012 so far - and what we can learn from them.


Femfresh faced a social media backlash this week due to their use of slang terms like 'laa laa' and 'va jay ay' for women's private parts. Many deemed the words patronising and offensive, causing an onslaught of social media comments that have even called into question the legitimacy of the product.

Femfresh's only response was to issue a statement on their Facebook page that threatened to delete offensive comments.

Lessons to be learned

Understand your brand
Femfresh is an intimate hygiene product that isn't necessarily compatible with frivolous slang phrases. Consider who you are, who your target audience are and how they will react to your brand and develop guidelines that will ensure consistency.

Engage with your critics
Social media helps businesses engage with their customers. During times of crisis, it is even more important to reach out and reassure the people that interact with your brand.

Claire's Accessories

In February of this year, independent jewellers Tatty Devine released a blog post that illustrated similarities between Claire's Accessories items and their own, asking Claire's Accessories to withdraw what appeared to be copied pieces.

The post caused a social media backlash, with people taking to Claire's Accessories'Twitter and Facebook page to complain.

Claire's Accessories' reaction was to block people and delete negative comments, causing more negative comments regarding this decision.

Lessons to be learned

Plan for disaster
This isn't the first time Claire's Accessories has faced a social media backlash due to allegations of plagiarism. While you can't always know what's round the corner, any potential disaster you can envisage should be prepared for.

Don't ignore problems
Deleting comments and blocking people without a really good reason could damage your relationship with your fans and followers. Pretending a disaster hasn't happened will not make it go away, but responding to criticisms in a helpful and engaging manner could protect your reputation.

Woody Harrelson

Woody Harrelson took part in an 'Ask Me Anything' (AMA) chat on Reddit, where Redditors can - you've guessed it - ask a person anything. They have become increasingly popular with celebrities who have worked out is a good place to reach a lot of people.

The thing is though, that Redditors do have a tendency to ask anything - celebrities should not expect a quick, cushy Q & A about subject of their choosing. AMAs work best when people answer as many questions as possible in a detailed and personal way.

It's a shame no one told Woody Harrelson this.

Harrelson took park in an AMA in February to promote his film Rampart. He made it clear from the start of the AMA that he didn't have much time, brought everything back to the movie, answered only a handful of questions - and only answered in a very brief manner, even using the phrase 'my time is valuable'.

Woody Harrelson clearly didn't know what he was getting into. The result earned Harrelson and his film the disdain of one of the biggest online communities.

Lessons to be learned

Know your social media channel
If Harrelson had simply looked at past Reddit AMAs, seen what worked and what didn't and essentially found out what he was letting himself in for, things would have gone a lot differently. You are not expected to know it all, but you should understand the etiquette of the social media channels you use.

In all of these cases, the problem wasn't social media itself, but rather how it was used. You cannot be a fair-weather friend to your fans on social media, ignoring them unless they are willing to sing your praises. The clue is in the name. If you use social media, you have to be social to see the benefits. Ensure you have an effective strategy and social media guidelines so you can respond quickly to problems and be part of the conversation when it matters most.