Social Media Campaigns: Case Studies of the Biggest Fails of 2012 (So Far)

8 May

As social media continues to evolve, there is no set formula that defines a perfect campaign. While there are some great social media campaigns being run by companies, there are also plenty of campaigns being run which highlight how running a social media campaign isn’t easy, and there can be downfalls. Many individuals and companies are learning this the hard way, and it’s good to learn from other people’s mistakes so we don’t end up making them ourselves!

Here are some case studies of such failures that have occurred this year, along with the key lesson learnt from each failure.

1. McDonald’s #McDStories

In mid-January, McDonalds launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. McDonald’s asked users to post nostalgic stories about their experiences on Happy Meals, however, the #McDStories campaign quickly took a whole different turn very quickly as users started using the hashtag to instead share horror experiences and shock tales. From poor work conditions to appalling food quality, McDonald’s campaign turned negative attention back to itself.

Here are just a few examples of tweets on the #McDStories Hashtag:

The Lesson:
Social media campaigns always contain a measure of risk, where perception from users cannot be controlled. McDonald’s suffered from this, with the hijacking of their hashtag campaign. While companies, to some degree, can attempt to anticipate reaction from customers, at times it is simply impossible. In general, companies need to prepare contingency plans, and have a strategy for when social media fails. This is also a great example which shows that no-one, not even a global restaurant giant, can control conversations on the internet.

2. Reddit & Woody Harrelson’s ‘Ask Me Anything’

At the start of February, Academy Award Nominee Woody Harrelson hosted Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMA), where users can ask questions to individuals who have a unique story or occupation. While the AMA’s are generally used to promote thoughtful dialogue and discussion, Harrelson’s AMA chat took a different approach – Reddit users quickly got the impression that the movie star was simply using the site for nothing more than marketing purposes, and Reddit users lashed out. There was an enormous amount of backlash fired against Harrelson, his publicists and his upcoming movie, and Harrelson became infamous in Reddit history ever since. Google ‘Woody Harrelson’ today and ‘Woody Harrelson AMA’ is still the most popular search term!

Here are a few of the comments directly from Harrelson’s AMA:

The Lesson:
The main reason why this campaign failed so spectacularly is because of Harrelson’s (and his publicists) failure to understand his audience. Reddit is a social news website which possesses a dedicated audience that is very sensitive towards marketing attempts. With AMA threads, Reddit users expect an honest dialogue, providing an open forum between the host and the audience. When using a social media platform, it is vital that you carefully understand the community and how they work.

3. Chris Brown’s Post-Grammy Tweets

One of the big winners at the 2012 Grammy Awards was R&B singer Chris Brown, who won an award for Best R&B album. After the Grammys, Chris Brown celebrated his victory on Twitter, by sending out tweets to his followers. But instead of thanking his loyal fans for their support, he instead focused his updates towards his haters, attacking them with disparaging remarks and F-bombs. Given the singer’s already shaky reputation, these tweets further solidified the controversy around him.

The Lesson:
Given the shareable nature of social media, public perception and reputation can change at the drop of a hat. A single tweet can quickly spread to others, whether it is good or bad, especially if you are extremely influential within your respective industry, especially if this occurs from a business/company account. By posting such remarks, Chris Brown’s tweets turned some fans against him and had them commenting on his temperamental nature instead of the Grammy win itself. While the tweet was later deleted from Brown’s account, it lives on through the hundreds and thousands of retweets it received, which can’t be deleted.

4. Toyota’s #CamryEffect Campaign

During the Superbowl, Toyota planned a major Twitter campaign meant to promote the Camry. Creating a number of Twitter accounts labeled @CamryEffect1 through @CamryEffect9, Toyota intended to engage users by directly tweeting them. However, this had the opposite effect: users accused Toyota of bombarding and spamming them with unsolicited messages. Though Toyota quickly suspended the accounts, this campaign still resonates as an example of a failed, large-scale endeavour.

Here are some examples of the spam tweets it bombarded users with:

The Lesson:
In Toyota’s case, mass spamming was not the main problem, though it definitely added to their woes. Instead, it was the content itself that caused the uproar. In order to engage users, your tweets need to be interesting and intriguing, motivating users to retweet the message. However, the content used in the #CamryEffect campaign gave a self-serving and promotional impression. The bland, spammed messages and poor timing became a recipe for disaster for the major automobile company.

What lessons have you learned from these social media fiascos that you will apply in your own social media and PR efforts? Do you have examples of any similar fails from which we can also learn?


8 Responses to “Social Media Campaigns: Case Studies of the Biggest Fails of 2012 (So Far)”

  1. Kirsty Ballard May 27, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Great post! Hope you don’t mind if I reblog it? 🙂

    • Kunal Gandhi May 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

      Hey Kirsty! Thanks so much, I’m glad you enjoyed the post and yes, please feel free to reblog it! 🙂

  2. Kirsty Ballard May 27, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

    Reblogged this on Flashing For Money and commented:
    Most of the time we all focus more on what Social Media is doing right, especially in terms of Brands and Branding. Social Axis addresses the Fails of these Social Media Campaigns.


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