In much the same way as an off-the-cuff comment can cause offence and embarrassment, social media provides plenty of opportunities for businesses and individuals to make fools of themselves online.

However, unlike an ill-considered statement to friends down the pub, social media opens such bloopers to a worldwide audience. Here are some of the worst examples of recent times.


In an effort to engage with their customer base, fast food chain McDonalds asked Twitter users to tweet their love of the brand using the promoted hashtag #mcdstories. However, instead of getting a collection of feel good tales from satisfied customers, the McDonalds Twitter team was deluged with horror stories and general abuse. Worse still, McDonalds had paid to promote the #mcdstories hashtag, making the taunts available to an even larger audience of Twitter users.


Another example from Twitter, utilities provider British Gas made headlines for all the wrong reasons twice on the same day. After announcing an unwelcome 9.2% rise in prices for consumers, the PR team took to Twitter to publicise a question and answer session with Bert Pjils, the customer services director at British Gas. Immediately, disgruntled customers hijacked the official #AskBG hashtag, inundating Mr Pjils with anger and sarcasm, causing the company further embarrassment.

Burger King blunder

Burger King also became the butt of many jokes after their Twitter account was hacked. The background image and bio were quickly altered to suggest that Burger King had been sold to rivals McDonalds. This was followed by a string of tweets designed to cause further embarrassment before the company finally managed to suspend the account.

Samsung users demand iPhones

Whether as part of a misguided attempt to shore up support with their Facebook followers, or to simply encourage discussion between their fans, Samsung managed to hand their biggest rival some free brand coverage unintentionally. The apparently safe question “If you could only take on electronic device on to a desert island, what would it be?”, yielded unexpected (and embarrassing) results. Far from Samsung’s fans choosing the Galaxy S3 (their then flagship handset) as expected, commentators quickly chose the iPhone 5 from Apple. The post then went viral as commentators and Apple fans alike ridiculed Samsung.

Selling off the back of disaster

Newsjacking, tying products to current affairs and trends, is an advertising technique that has worked well for many years. Occasionally though brands completely misjudge the zeitgeist and end up offending the people they are trying to attract as customers. Fashion retailer Kenneth Cole was widely criticised after a tweet suggesting that the Egyptian revolution was caused by people excited about the brand’s spring collection. Perhaps most surprisingly, the message was apparently sent by the chairman himself. An apology for offence caused was later issued, but the damage had already been done.

Faking social support

A good online reputation is essential to modern business, which is why many brands spend millions of pounds each year on social media marketing. However, a home computing manufacturer took things a little too far after being caught paying people to write positive reviews for their products on the Amazon ecommerce site, in an effort to make the items look more popular. One of the people approached to write reviews publicly blogged about the “scam”, drawing heavy criticism of Belkin. A customer boycott ensued, forcing Belkin to issue a public apology.

Out of control employees

Twitter has established itself as a place to find breaking news, but in some cases brands would prefer to shape such information before it is released to the general public. No such luck for beleaguered music shop HMV, whose social media manager decided to live tweet their own redundancy using the company’s own official account, before going on to criticise other management decisions.

Social media offers brands a useful way to connect with and engage consumers. However, ill-considered comments, poor social media controls or simply failing to consider all the potential implications can lead to embarrassment, or worse still, a reduction in sales and brand value. The above scenarios are not unique, and could happen to any poorly-prepared business.

Written by Alexandra Johnson, a social media and technology enthusiast.