The cardinal rule of conducting business on social media is don’t embarrass your brand. It’s so easy to avoid, after all, given the ample opportunities for entrepreneurs to learn from big companies’ mistakes online.
To help you avoid any missteps, here are five of the worst errors that Corporate America has ever committed on Twitter.
1. Kenneth Cole mocks war to sell shoes. Amid debate over U.S. military involvement in Syria, fashion mogul Kenneth Cole on Sept. 5 tweeted, “Boots on the ground or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear.” His words drew the ire of many Twitter users, who, among other things described his actions as “not cool or socially responsible.”
In a video released after the controversy ensued, Cole defends the move: “I’ve always used my platform to provoke dialogue about important issues, including HIV/AIDS, war, and homelessness.” Indeed, Cole has a history of provocative tweets. In 2011, for example, he used the Egyptian uprising to market his spring collection, which many customers also found distasteful.
The lesson: Don’t get so caught up in marketing your brand that you lose your human sensitivity.
2. CVS promotes a private Twitter account. The whole point of social media is to be “social,” which apparently was lost on this nationwide pharmacy’s marketing team. Its “community manager” created a private Twitter account at @CVS_Cares to coincide with a campaign celebrating women as caregivers in 2009. Because it was locked, any tweets sent from that account could be viewed only by people who were authorized to see them — and not the public at large. The handle appears to have been abandoned since then, and the company now operates a public account @CVS_Extra.
The lesson: If you want to advertise your brand on social media, don’t use a private Twitter account.
3. Progressive auto-responds to really bad PR. Progressive Insurance was the subject of a 2012 Tumblr post titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer in Court.” It’s a long story, but the headline is essentially accurate. After the story went viral, Progressive made matters worse by sending out a dozen tweets that were clearly auto-responses, which made people even angrier.
The lesson: Auto-responses are sometimes warranted, but typically they defeat the purpose of social media.
4. KitchenAid made light of the death of President Obama’s grandmother. Whatever your political inclinations may be, it’s never a good idea to mock someone with a deceased loved one. But a KitchenAid staffer did just that during one of the Obama-Romney debates in 2012: “Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president!’”
The lesson: When building a consumer brand online, it’s best to leave your personal politics out of it, particularly if you’re selling universally appealing items like cake mixers. And keep corporate accounts out of the hands of junior staffers.
5. Habitat hijacked unrelated trending topics. Habitat, a U.K.-based furniture company, tried to gain more followers in 2009 by sending out tweets with hashtags of irrelevant trending topics. To that end, the company used #Apple and #iPhone to advertise its spring collection. What do those hashtags have to do with furniture? Nothing. A backlash ensued, and the company ultimately deleted the offending tweets.
The lesson: Using hashtags inappropriately is considered spamming by Twitter. You can lose your account for that.