Make a Mistake on Social Media? Get Back on Track – 3 Case Studies

Social Media MistakeNews spreads like wildfire, triply so if it’s through social media.

As companies have taken to social media as a regular communication tool, it’s inevitable someone would make a faux pas and post something that attracts negative attention.

Even the slickest PR teams can have a tough time diffusing the effects of a social media mistake. But if handled with swiftness and integrity, even the worst social media nightmare can be overcome.

Let’s look at three noteworthy social media gaffes that happened this year, and see what small business owners can glean from these examples.

1)—CEO and the Elephant
Back in March, CEO Bob Parsons tweeted about a video he posted showing his elephant hunting trip in Zimbabwe (click for story and video). According to Parsons, bull elephants pose a big problem for farmers, damaging crops during harvest time.

Parsons expected public outcry, but probably not to the extent that happened. Animal lovers, including animal-rights group PETA, swarmed on Parsons and pushed the already public CEO into the limelight. By close association, his popular website domain company was also dragged into the mix.

Parsons’ PR folks worked hard to push the humanitarian cause in elephant hunting, which did help simmer the fire. But clearly suffered financial and public image losses because of Parsons’ showcasing on his personal social media account.

As small business owners, you understand how closely tied the individual is to the company, much more so than big companies. If you regularly maintain a personal social media account, ensure messages and media posted won’t draw a backlash that can affect business.

2) American Red Cross—Work and Alcohol Don’t Mix
It took about one hour for American Red Cross to realize a rogue tweet had been posted on its Twitter account in February. Turns out its media specialist was using Hootsuite and mistakenly posted a personal tweet on the corporate account; she was celebrating the find of more bottles of Midas Touch beer (click for full story).

When American Red Cross removed the tweet, it posted an apology mixed with bit of humor: “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet, but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” On its website it again apologized for the faux pas, acknowledging the organization is “made up of human beings” and thanked supporters for their understanding and support.

If a social media mistake happens in your business, be like American Red Cross and nip the error in the bud right away. Admit fault, offer apologies (throw in a little humor too if the situation’s right) and vow to never make the mistake again.

3) Kenneth Cole—Funny Isn’t Always Good
When Egypt was in the midst of civil uprising to bring about new leadership and change, Kenneth Cole decided to use the opportunity to promote his spring collection (click for story). He approved a tweet that read, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at” Bad move Kenny.

When hoards of people chastised Cole for his tasteless ploy, the tweet was removed and an apology issued. Cole later posted a longer Facebook message again apologizing for his “insensitive tweet” and admitting his “attempt at humor . . . was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.”

Since that debacle, his PR team clamped down on the account and made sure any messages got their approval first. “I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth. Now, my tweets go through a filter!” Cole said.

For those who can relate to Cole’s foot-in-mouth tendency, when a mistake is made, say sorry, and say it quickly. If you’re one of those small business owners who also wears the social media hat for your company, it’s worthwhile to have a business partner, employee or friend review any messages before they get posted online. It just may save you the effort of having to fumble for another apology.

(Photo credit – ktpupp)



About Joseph Mutidjo

Joseph is a writer at Smallbiztechnology. His first taste of home computing was the Tandy 1000. He continues to be fascinated with how technology makes life easier and more efficient.

  • RogerJH

    Good post. But the LA Times article does not do justice to the furor that erupted over GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons’ shooting of an elephant. It mostly states Parson’s perspective and fails to cover the various reasons that caused people to object to Parsons actions. Moreover, the folks who took issue with Parsons were not just animal loving fringers as GoDaddy’s PR team would have you believe. The way it was depicted on video and the questionable reasoning used by Parsons were clearly objectionable. Parson’s shooting of the elephant was not just a social media debacle but was immoral and unethical. I wrote an article that highlights three primary reasons why Bob Parson’s actions were reprehensible.