Through the Spyglass


Social Media Marketing Gone Wrong: 3 Examples of Public Relations Nightmares

While most companies realize the importance of engaging with audiences on social media, many of them launch social media profiles and hire social media managers without first implementing public relations policies. Now, if you’ve been following our blog, you might already understand the connection between social media and public relations, but if not, we’ll give you a brief overview.

Social media can have the power to make or break customer perceptions of a company. If an unhappy customer voices a complaint on social media and your brand responds poorly (or not at all), you can have a legitimate public relations disaster on your hands. We all know of a social media trend that went viral, but perhaps some of us are less familiar with social media brand mishaps that go viral and impact the company’s financial bottom line. To bring you up to speed, here are examples of three social media mishaps that turned into public relations nightmares.


A server who was shorted a tip wrote a snarky comm ent on the check and her friend, taking a picture of the check, uploaded it to Reddit. The server who uploaded the picture was fired. There was then a firestorm on social media demanding the server be hired back. Applebee’s did basically everything wrong in relation to dealing with the online dissatisfaction:

  1. They were inconsistent in their policy. They said that they let the server go because she violated customer privacy. They subsequently posted to their social media page a note from a customer that included that customer’s name. Social media observers were not happy about this inconsistency.
  2. They moderated comments on social media, deleting a number of negative ones. People realized they were being censored and this created still more negative feedback.
  3. The company’s “official” explanation of the series of events came in the form of a comment among the stream of other comments between 2 and 3 a.m. It was hardly noticed.

You can read more about this event with screenshots here.

British Airways

In 2013, British Airways lost the baggage of a certain social-media-savvy customer who naturally took to Twitter to voice his complaint. When the airline didn’t respond, the customer put $1,000 of his own money into advertising his complaint, which ultimately reached 50,000 people. 

United Airlines

In 2008, United Airlines messed up by not compensating a customer whose guitar they damaged. That customer was a well-known country music singer who then released an original single describing that experience. At the time this blog post was written, the YouTube video had received more than 14 million views. 

Perhaps you manage a brand’s social media profiles and you can relate to the companies above in that you’re not always sure how to respond to difficult customers online. If that’s the case, you should definitely check out our post discussing five social media mistakes to avoid. It'll give you a good idea of common mistakes that you can easily prevent so that your brand doesn’t get included in a post like this in the future.