Social Media Magazine

This Year in Review: 5 Major Social Media Disasters

Posted on the 20 December 2012 by Cendrinemedia @cendrinemedia

social media disaster

(Photo credit: marsmet541)

If there is one lesson to learn from the last 12 months, it is that brands still struggle to make sense of social media.

This year was full of disasters that could have been easily avoided with a bit of common sense. Here are five examples in this article.

  • Hurricane Sandy
  • #McDStories
  • Aurora shooting
  • Instagram's new TOS
  • Political leanings

Hurricane Sandy

Would you ever try to capitalize on a tragedy to make a profit? Well, apparently, some companies thought they could when Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S.:

  • Hubspot triggered the ire of many after publishing an article that seemed to celebrate the brands using the disaster to drive sales. The company apologized publicly, took down the content, and donated $5,000 to the Red Cross.  
  • Urban Outfitters used the #ALLSOGGY hashtag to offer free shipping.

This storm blows (but free shipping doesn’t)! Today only… #frankenstorm #ALLSOGGY

— Urban Outfitters (@UrbanOutfitters) October 29, 2012

  •  American Apparel also had a go with its “In case you are bored during the storm” offer.


When McDonald launched the #McDStories hashtag, all the company wanted was to offer people a forum to share heart-warming stories about Happy Meals.

Things did not really turn out as planned…

One time I walked into McDonalds and I could smell Type 2 diabetes floating in the air and I threw up.#McDStories

— Skip Sullivan (@SkipSullivan) January 18, 2012

I ate a @mcdonalds cheeseburger a few years ago and got food poisoning so bad that I had to get hospitalized. That is my #mcdstories

— healthy_food (@healthy_food) January 25, 2012

You can read more examples here

Aurora shooting

On July 20, James Eagan Holmes killed 12 people and injured 58 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. 

A few hours later, Celeb Boutique, a UK-based online retailer, sent out the following Tweet:

Celeb Boutique

Celeb Boutique

The message triggered a wave of very angry and violent comments.  People bashed the company, accusing it of several things, especially a lack of compassion and humanity.

Celeb Boutique had no choice but to apologize publicly:

“We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora – Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend, at that time our social media was totally UNAWARE of the situation and simply thought it was another trending topic – we have removed the very insensitive tweet and will of course take more care in future to look into what we say in our tweets. Again we do apologize for any offense caused. This was not intentional & will not occur again. Our most sincere apologies for both the tweet and situation. – CB”

But Celeb Boutique is not the only one to have been careless and insensitive. Look at what the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) tweeted on the same day:

NRA Aurora tweet

Instagram’s new TOS

A few days ago, Instagram announced that, starting on January 16, 2013, it would use people’s photos, names, text and other content in ads. Within hours, many users had taken to Twitter and Facebook to complain and deleted their accounts.

The situation prompted an immediate response from co-founder Kevin Systrom:

From the start, Instagram was created to become a business. Advertising is one of many ways that Instagram can become a self-sustaining business, but not the only one. Our intention in updating the terms was to communicate that we’d like to experiment with innovative advertising that feels appropriate on Instagram. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: it is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.


The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.

Unlike many, I do not consider the new TOS a disaster per say. I see it more as a ploy to test people and see if they are paying attention.

Let us hope that Facebook will learn to put users’ needs before the dollar sign from now on.

Political leanings

Should a brand be allowed to mix business and personal views publicly? Ask KitchenAid. The company will probably tell you that it is not a good idea.


Source: TheDrum

And what about Chick-Fil-A, whose CEO Dan Cathy created major controversy with his anti-gay stance?

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that…we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.” (Source: Huffington Post)

Now, it’s your time to speak. What are the other major social media disasters you spotted this year? 

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