Top Five Social Media Fails of 2013

By: Allie Herzog

While there have been many unfortunate social media blunders this year, we can thank (or shame) Home Depot for adding another one to the list just yesterday.

Home Depot tweeted an incredibly inappropriate and offensive photo and caption, and its so-called apologies in the aftermath also fell short.

You would think that brands and social media managers would have learned their lessons by now, but each year we still seem to have plenty of contenders for the year-end blunder lists. Let’s take a look at five offenders from this year, and what we can learn from each!

1)    Home Depot: Not only did Home Depot’s official account allow an insensitive tweet to be sent out, they also royally screwed up in controlling the situation.  Once the insensitive tweet spread, they began copy and pasting the exact same, less than heartfelt apology response to everyone complaining. They also made matters worse by tweeting random apologies to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the NAACP. Way to blow up your own spot, Home Depot…


They have since deleted the offensive tweet and placed blame on an outside social media agency and employee, whom they have allegedly fired.  They sent out a new apology tweet today and are busy tweeting it word for word to the masses.

Lesson learned: Home Depot can learn a few things here. For one, they should have better control over their brand presence on social media, and should have been well aware of what was being sent out on their behalf. If you’re going to use an outside resource, there still needs to be an approval process in place and better yet, a level of understanding and trust on what’s acceptable content.  Secondly, their apology should have been less scripted and more heartfelt. Blaming someone else isn’t going to win friends, but a humble “We’re sorry” just might.

2)    Walmart: An ALL CAPS angry Facebook post made its way to Walmart’s page one Sunday afternoon and although it was quickly deleted, word spread of the erroneous post. Every community manager has nightmares of accidently posting from the wrong account but it seems some people still make this mistake.

Lesson learned: Double, no TRIPLE check that you are indeed posting to your personal Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. if you manage any brand pages at all – especially if you happen to be posting something containing profanity, references to alcohol or drug use or anything else of a questionable nature.

3)    HMV: This global entertainment company had their dirty laundry aired to the world, when they fired half their staff (including those who manage their social media accounts) before changing passwords or disabling access. A 21-year-old who controlled the company’s twitter account live-tweeted the mass firing in a slew of 7 tweets that went viral across the world in just minutes.


Lesson learned: There are many here. For one, no single employee (and especially a junior level one) should have complete control over social media accounts. Also, make sure you have safeguards in place to shut off access/change passwords should you need to in a hurry. It also can’t hurt to have some managers know who how to use social media…

4)    Kenneth Cole: Apparently not learning his lesson from his ill-received tweet about Cairo, Kenneth Cole struck again, tweeting this after the recent Syria crisis:

“Boots on the ground” or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear

People were less than pleased with his tie-in of another global tragedy with selling his shoes and many tweeted their displeasure.

Lesson learned: There’s no need to interject your brand into every current event. If it involves death/war or both, it’s probably best to keep quiet and not try to tie it into your brand.

5)    Esquire Magazine: Recently, Esquire had a mistake on their website where they ran the wrong photo next to a story. It was a pretty sizable error (the story was about the controversial Falling Man image from September 11th) but instead of giving a humble apology they further angered readers with this tweet:

Relax, everybody. There was a stupid technical glitch on our “Falling Man” story and it was fixed asap. We’re sorry for the confusion.

 Lesson learned: If you mess up, give an honest, heartfelt apology…and that’s it.

So what do you think fellow PR and social media managers, how can we prevent these mistakes from continuing to happen? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, or tweet us @castercomm!

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