Worst PR social media fails

In 2016 nearly 70% of Americans used some form of social media, and the stats are similar here in Australia. With that kind of online presence, it’s impossible to deny that social media provides an invaluable means of communication, promotion and branding for businesses. And as of 2016, the majority of Australian businesses had some form of social media presence.

But not all of them are getting it right. How you use social media is going to make or break your business. Here are some examples of what NOT to do…

– Using a sombre occasion to promote your brand is never a good idea –

Carrie Fisher, who famously played Princess/General Leia in the Star Wars movies, died from a heart attack last year. Unfortunately, Cinnabon thought it was the appropriate time to promote their brand using a pun…it was not the appropriate time.


Cinnabon’s Tweet was removed after receiving mixed reactions.

While some people thought the tweet was true to Fisher’s sense of humour, Cinnabon also received backlash and outrage for the tasteless product-placement at a time of mourning. The company deleted the original post and tweeted an apology, with the public relations team most likely laying low in a galaxy far, far away.

Alas, Cinnabon is not the only company to take advantage of a sombre occasion. All too “fresh in our memories” is Woolworths’ tasteless Anzac Day promotion.


Woolworth’s Anzac Day campaign caused serious backlash.

The supermarket giant is known for its phrase “the fresh food people”. For Anzac Day 2015, Woolworths incorporated this into the above campaign photos. “Lest we forget” and the phrase “fresh in our memories” was placed over genuine photos of former war soldiers. Failing to mask a promotional campaign as a heart-felt tribute , resulted in criticism on Twitter, Facebook and wide-spread media coverage for taking advantage of a national remembrance day. The campaign was taken down in-store and removed from social media.

– Don’t let a hashtag become a bashtag –

Hashtags can make or break a business’s social media campaign. In 2012 McDonald’s launched a campaign using the hashtag #McDstories, in the hopes that customers would share their positive experiences and love of the fast food company with the rest of the Twittersphere. But boy oh boy, did that not go to plan.

“The hashtag’s importance lies in the fact that when you click on one, on any social network, you will automatically be shown all other public posts that contain the same hashtag.” (Taral Patel, PRmention)

People started using the hashtag to share their fast food horror stories. #McDstories has now gone down in history as one of the biggest PR social media fails.

Inviting people to share their experience or ask the company a question is a risky move. Crowd-sourcing campaigns are difficult to control, and as Seaworld discovered, they’re sometimes impossible to stop.

#AskSeaworld started two years ago and is still being used on Twitter to question Seaworld’s treatment of animals.

“Lesson: Take stock of how your brand is perceived; don’t assume the internet will play nicely with your PR stunt.” (Erin Carson, Tech Republic)

So tell me, what are your most memorable social media PR fails?


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