Social Media Hall of Shame

Everybody talks about social media successes. And that’s fine. But as Thomas Edison said about his attempts to create the lightbulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

We’re looking to include at least some of the 10,000 social media failures in our Social Media Hall of Shame, which will be part of the soon-to-be-published social computing strategy book, Be a Person.

We list the dumb moves we’ve cataloged so far below. You can contribute by commenting on this post, or on our Facebook Page at:

Social Media Hall of Shame

“Innumerable confusions and a feeling of despair invariably emerge in periods of great technological and cultural transition.”

Marshall McLuhan

Here is a compendium of what not to do with social media, as demonstrated by those who fail to truly grasp both its potential and the change in traditional thinking its use demands.[1]

Hapless Organization

Dumb Move

Skittles 2009 – Skittles made a bold move by changing their home page to show a Skittles logo overlaid on a Twitter search for the word Skittles. They get credit for not censoring the Twitter feed – the post “Skittles give you cancer and is the cause of all world evil” appeared on the page. But this plus turned into a minus when Tweeps started posting increasingly rude posts. After two days, Skittles had to change their page to remove the Twitter feed.Read more at and
JCPenney A vendor for JCPenney’s advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, submitted “The Speed Dressing” to the 2008 International Advertising Festival at Cannes without authorization from the retailer. The video showed two teenagers in separate bedrooms practicing how fact they could get dressed. The two later meet at the girl’s how and tell her mother they’re going downstairs to “watch TV.” JCPenney’s ad slogan, “Today’s the day to get away with it” and the retailer’s logo appear at the end of the clip. Needless to say, JCPenney wasn’t happy and had the video removed from YouTube, but nothing interesting can ever really go away on the Web anymore. You can see the video
Wal-Mart 2006 – Wal-Marting Across America campaign[2]purported to be a blog about a couple’s journey across America in an RV, during which they encountered many Wal-Marts along the way. The blog was exposed as a Wal-Mart marketing gimmick created by their agency, Edelman.2007 – Wal-Mart, pressed by competitor Target’s successful fan page that emphasized style rather than price, had Edelman set up a style-oriented Facebook fan page, but decides to limit user comments to wall posts instead of a discussion board. Users did not like the more-easily-controlled wall post option, and flooded the wall with nasty comments. They also did not respond well to the shift in emphasis from Wal-Mart’s core characteristic, value, to style.

2010 – Wal-Mart PR firm Serafin and Associates posts as “Chatham” to support entry of Wal-Mart into Chicago; created

Read more at and and and

Nestle 2010 – In an attempt to silence or intimidate critics who were using altered versions of their logo, Nestle posted “we welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic – they will be deleted.” Nestle also posted sarcastic replies to negative posts.Read more at
Molson 2007 – Molson ran a Facebook campaign that featured a photo contest targeting 19-24 year old college students. (Hint: some of those people will be too young to drink Molson is some jurisdictions, like the entire US; the campaign was targeted at Candadians). The Molson Canadian Nation Campus Challenge ad said, “Be the #1 party school in Canada” and offered a trip for five for spring break in Cancun, Mexico to the school with the most pictures uploaded. (Hint: only five people can win, but hundreds contribute?) Ad also said: “Show everyone how you and your crew get the party started!” and listed the top 10 party schools. This drew complaints from parents and school administrators. Molson terminated the contest early, but did award the prize.Read more at
Motrin In fall of 2008, pain reliever brand Motrin posted a short video as part of an ad campaign aimed at young mothers. In an attempt to identify with its intended audience, the ad featured a young woman speaking in an irreverent tone about the fashion of wearing one’s baby, and the back pain associated with the practice.

Some online moms found the tone patronizing and felt they were being mocked. The video went largely unnoticed for 45 days, but then on Saturday, November 15, one mother, Jessica Gottlieb, tweeted her disapproval using the hashtag #motrinmoms. By Sunday afternoon, #motrinmoms was one of the hottest hashtags on Twitter. Mommy Blogger Katja Presnal created a nine minute YouTube video comprised of angry tweets from moms with baby carriers. In all, however, fewer than 1,000 people posted anything using the hashtag. But this was a very vocal minority.

By social media standards, Motrin was slow to respond to the outcry. Yet by Sunday evening, they pulled the campaign, temporarily shuttered their Website, and apologized. Instead of engaging with the protestors on their own turf, Motrin reverted to an Old Media response: They tried to remove all traces of the video and ad campaign and offered a corporate apology in response: “We have taken immediate action to respond to these concerns and have removed the advertisement from our Web site.”

By November 20th, they had pulled themselves together a bit more, and published a response with a much better tone. Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare offered a new apology that followed our mandate: Be A Person. “So…it’s been almost 4 days since I apologized here for our Motrin advertising. What an unbelievable 4 days it’s been. Believe me when I say we’ve been taking our own headache medicine here lately!” Much, much better.

Motrin’s mistake was in not using the negative attention to engage in a dialogue with the angered moms. By taking them seriously and listening to their concerns, Motrin could have probably defused the uproar and possibly turned the furor into an advantage. Engaging in a dialogue would have enabled Motrin to explain that they were trying to be funny, and they were sorry that hadn’t worked.

Ironically, Jessica Gottlieb, author of the original tweet, said that she felt the ad did not need to be pulled. What if Motrin had originally addressed her directly and enlisted her help?


Pepsi 2009 – Created an iPhone app called “AMP UP Before You Score” that offers to help guys get lucky with 24 different types of women – and then brag about it. Click on a type – from “Rebound Girl” with dripping mascara, to the “Aspiring Actress” dressed like a waitress, to the “Artist” pictured chewing on a paintbrush – and the app provides lines to help you score, along with a crib sheet to dupe the woman into thinking you share her interests. Pepsi killed the app after a week.Read more at
Honda 2009 – Honda released a new car, Crosstour, but its Facebook page was overflowing with negative comments regarding its styling. Eddie Okubo, a manager in Honda Product Planning, started posting positive comments without revealing he was an employee. This did not go over well when he was outed by a Facebook user.Read more at
Maytag 2009 – Blogger Heather B. Armstrong, who writes the popular parenting blog Dooce, was unhappy with her new washing machine. After frustrated dealings with the company, Armstrong urged her 1-million-plus Twitter followers not to buy Maytag appliances, and Whirlpool, which owns Maytag, dispatched someone to fix the machine within a day.Read more at 9XRJCJ
United Airlines 2009 – Musician Dave Carroll sought restitution for United breaking his guitar to no avail, so he wrote a song, called the United Breaks Guitars Song, and created a YouTube video about his plight that became a hit.Read more at
HabitatUK 2009 – Upscale furniture store Habitat piggy-backed on popular Twitter topics by using irrelevant hashtag keywords such as #iPhone, #mms, and #Apple in its promotional tweets. After tweeps got upset, Habitat deleted their offending tweets, and replaced them with generic product and sales oriented tweets, but did not immediately apologize. Apparently, the company thought removing the evidence of their bungling was enough. Twitter’s search function proved them wrong, and the company eventually apologized.Read more at
ASUS 2009 – Computer maker ASUS created a blogging competition at by picking six people and asking them to blog about products they’d been given for review. Readers would then rate the blogs and the winner would be able to keep the reviewed products. Readers picked an honest, but not perfectly positive, review by Gavyn Britton. ASUS didn’t like the choice, and changed the rules of the competition so that the six bloggers voted for each other to decide the prize, resulting in Emma Hill winning. When challenged, ASUS said they had upgraded the prizes the bloggers got, but did not apologize for fixing the race.Read more at
Belkin 2009 – A Belkin employee offering payment for positive reviews of a Belkin network router and asked reviewers to vote down negative comments. The company apologized, and said they did not support such activity, which they indicated was done without their approval. But a subsequent investigation by The Daily Background, found a second employee, Belkin’s National Account Manager had solicityed review-scamming as far back as 2006. Gizomodo unearthed a Belkin employee who said that, while not official policy, “for years it has been pressed upon ALL Belkin employees to do whatever is needed to get good product reviews and good press.”Read more at
Burger King 2008 – Executive Stephen Grover used his daughter’s email account to weigh in on a dispute about tomato-pickers’ pay and criticize organizations lobbying for an increase in worker pay.Read more at
Johnson & Johnson 2008 – J&J did not invite, then invited, and then disinvited Stefania Pomponi Butler, an influential MommyBlogger. This does not impress her.Read more at
Target 2007 – Target told a group of young people to “keep it like a secret”” that they were incented to market Target products to their friends on Facebook and providing the company with feedback. When outed by Rosie Siman, Target responded by deleting her Facebook posts. Target eventually claimed that the secrecy recommendations were not endorsed by them and blamed their PR agency.Read more at

2008 – Blogger Amy Jussel complained about a Target ad that featured a clothed woman splayed across a Target logo with the bull’s-eye at her crotch. Target replied that they don’t participate with nontraditional media outlets, basically invalidating the complaint because it came from a blogger. Jussel naturally took her disappointment to her social media community. Eventually Target eventually explained the woman was creating a snow angel on the logo.


Whole Foods 2007 – Whole Foods CEO John Mackey created an anonymous account on competitor Wild Oats’ Yahoo Finance stock discussion board and for eight years bashed the company in an attempt to drive down the stock so he could buy the company.Read more at
Horizon Group Management 2009 – Former tenant Amanda Bonnen tweeted: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay.” After Bonnen sued Horizion, the real estate management company sued her for libel, claiming “We’re a ‘sue first, ask questions later’ kind of an organization.”Read more at
New York City 2009 – Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s deputy press secretary Lee Landor resigned after spending office time railing against Barack Obama (whom she termed “O-dumb-a,”) and defending racial profiling on her Facebook account. Landor’s profile was public, unfortunately for her.Read more at
Today Show 2009 – Weatherman Al Roker took mobile phone pictures of potential jurors while on jury duty and posted them to his Twitter page.Read more at
US Government 2009 – Rep. Peter Hoekstra , R-Mich. outed a secret House trip to Iraq by tweeting, “Just landed in Baghdad.”Read more at
Virginia Republican Party 2009 – Jeffrey Frederick, Virginia Republican party chairman, was close to convincing a Democratic state senator to defect but couldn’t keep the secret. He tweeted, “Big news coming out of Senate: Apparently one dem is either switching or leaving the dem caucus. Negotiations for power-sharing underway.” The Democrat reconsidered defecting.Read more at
Job Seeker 2009 – Job applicant Connor Riley, 22, tweeted: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Tim Levad at Cisco saw the Tweet, and tweeted back: “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.” Oops. Riley claims that the “fatty paycheck” was for an internship she didn’t want and had already turned down.Read more at
Comcast 2006 – A Comcast technician made a service call, spent an hour on hold with Comcast’s tech support, and fell asleep on Brian Finkelstein’s couch. Finkelstein took a video of the tech and posted it on YouTube where it has had more than 1.4 million views.Read more at and see the video at
AOL 2006 – Vincent Ferrari spends 21 minutes on a call with AOL trying to cancel his account. The rep asks to speak to the 30-year-old’s dad. Vincent records the conversation, then goes on the Today Show, and posts his interview on YouTube where it has had almost a half a million views.See the video at
JetBlue 2006 – JetBlue strands passengers for eight hours on tarmac, then delays further. Four passengers trying to get from New York to Sacramento spend two days in the process, and post their ordeal on YouTube. Note the related JetBlue videos on the sidebar when you watch it.See the video at
Reckitt Benckiser 2005 – Reckitt Benckiser makes the UK cleanser Cillit Bang. Someone at the company used fake blogger Barry Scott to comment on an emotional blog post by Tom Coates recounting the first contact with his father in three decades. Coates researched who was behind the sock puppet blog, and turned up agency Partners J. Walter Thompson and client Reckitt Benckiser as the forces behind it. Coates described trying to market a product on such a post as “revolting, corrupt, cynical, disgusting, sick and dishonourable.” Cillit Bang apologized.Read more at 2007 – Website offered top-ranked members of the social bookmarking site dig $500 to promote the site. The offer was promptly exposed and the site no longer exists.Read more at
General Motors 2006 – General Motors had an inspired idea: Give their Chevy Tahoe fans some raw materials and ask them to create ads for the SUV. The problem was, lots of people dislike SUVs and used the same materials to post ads critical of GM.Read more at and see some of the videos at
Southwest Airlines 2010 – Director Kevin Smith takes offense to being put off a plane, mainly because Southwest claims he was too fat to sit in a seat. Instead of apologizing, as Smith requested, Southwest stonewalls, even goes on the offensive with a blog called Not So Silent Bob (Smith’s blog is Silent Bob Speaks, named after a character he plays in his movies) and Smith eviscerates them via Twitter and his blog. Southwest’s servers go down under the resulting traffic. Southwest eventually apologizes.Read more at and at Smith’s blog (rated R)

[1] Many thanks to various collectors of dumb moves, such as: Jeremiah Owyang, ABC News’ Ki Mae Heussner, and Beirut