Social Media Meltdowns: When Businesses Fail Hard (and What We Can Learn)

Social Media Meltdowns: When Businesses Fail Hard (and What We Can Learn)

By Dave Lowe

Though still in its infancy, social media has permanently transformed the way businesses interact with their customers. Real-time customer service, highly targeted advertising and optimised content make up just a few of the many elements that define the modern relationship between business and consumer. It’s a relationship that promises to confound the boundaries between a hungry public and huge corporations as we all hold hands and march into a future of universal prosperity, profit, palm-fringed islands and parties… perfection. If only it was so simple.

Had this evolution been born into a world where the wider public had complete faith in big institutions – business, politics and the church – all may be well, but every huge communicative leap forward brings with it a more enlightened, demanding – and vocal – consumer. As such, any tepid, misguided, malicious, insincere or listless approach to social media can see a company eviscerated by a bloodthirsty audience in a public arena.

Recent history is littered with such examples, and every tale of woe teaches us a valuable lesson. So relax, and try not to curl your toes, as I regale tales of social media gone horribly, horribly wrong – After all, it wasn’t you, was it?

And a warning: some of the tweets below fall on the wrong side of good taste. Seriously.

Used the right way, user-generated content and public polling present a cost effective way to get users truly engaged with your brand. However, as the ‘Rickrolling’ phenomena proves (where an online poll thrust Rick Astley to the title of MTV ‘Best act Ever’ at the 2008 VMAs), there are always users ready and willing to hijack such initiatives to discredit, poke fun at or humiliate a brand. Sometimes this is light-hearted, like the case of ‘Boaty McBoatface’ – the £200m research vessel (later renamed the RRS Sir David Attenborough). (

Boaty Mcboatface leads online vote name 200m research vessel

Other examples are a little more cutting, such as ‘Tay Tweets’ – an experimental AI chat bot invented by Microsoft.

The intention of the experiment was for the bot, a computer generated program with the capacity to interact with and learn from users via Twitter, to prove that such technology can get ‘smarter’ with each conversation.

Via this process of continual learning, it took some 24 hours for the ‘millennial teen girl’ to be transformed by online troublemakers into a xenophobic monster.


For more insight (and colourful tweets) check out –

The lesson here? Be careful how much leeway you allow with UGC and polls. With the exception of Boaty (the result of which was ultimately overruled by a panel, as per the terms of the poll) these examples gave too much power to an extremely mischievous audience, and found themselves trapped by their own design.

Continuing the trend of a mischievous general public, Donald Trump was the latest of many celebrities targeted in inappropriate retweeting stings. If you don’t see an issue with the next image fear not, it evaded presidential hopeful Mr. Trump and his entire PR team:


The lesson? Before posting or retweeting anything, be sure of EXACTLY what it is. Others who have fallen foul of this most basic of social media principles lately include Coca-Cola – who managed to offend most of Russia and the Ukraine by posting a Russian map, first with Crimea included, and then without, ( and DC Comics who gleefully announced they had translated a speech from the non-existent language ‘Pakistanian’ ( Oh dear.

Next on the block; when a heated rival is grappling with tough times, social media offers ample opportunity to stick the knife in. This was the case between LG and Apple, the latter of whom was treading the water of the ‘bendgate’ scandal ( But it was LG who scored a remarkable own goal with this Tweet from their French account:


Karma? Perhaps, but the embarrassing gaffe could have been prevented with an iota of technical knowledge regarding how Twitter actually works. The lesson? Attention to detail is EVERYTHING.

Of course, These examples represent just the tip of the iceberg. As long as ill-equipped businesses bumble their way through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (always Twitter) there will be no shortage of social media ‘fails’ to fill Buzzfeed listicles.

So a word of warning to all you would be social media marketeers: reaction to such calamitous incidents can be swift… and the backlash, brutal.

We’re accustomed to helping our brands navigate (even thrive) in this minefield of etiquette, acronyms and cutthroat competition.

Our years of experience in dealing with all aspects of social media, from the day-to-day, special projects and crisis management, is matched by our in depth knowledge of all platforms. So if you don’t know the best way to proceed – pick up the phone, send us an email or catch us @mycleveragency – or don’t, it’s your funeral!

This post was written by Dave Lowe

myclever Agency paid media aficionado. Former academic, DJ/nightclub promoter, prison officer, scientist and carpet salesman... just trying to make my way in the world.