Lots of companies are on social media. But not every company knows exactly how to use these channels to communicate with fans or customers. Some companies have made disastrous, embarrassing mistakes on public platforms for all the world to see. These are the most amusing, most weird, and most jaw-dropping social media blunders made by big-name brands.
Applebee's has a midnight meltdown
In early 2013, people were upset at Applebee's for firing a waitress who had posted a receipt on which a customer had insulted her. The waitress's supporters went to Applebee's social channels, especially Facebook, to protest. The restaurant published an official statement on Facebook on Friday, February 1. It drew 17,000 negative comments, but the company stayed silent.
Then, around 2 a.m., Applebee's started responding. Instead of big, clear Facebook posts, the restaurant went to the comments, calling out individuals, tagging them, and -- worst of all -- deleting comments and blocking some people from posting. Critics were enraged. The Applebee's rep started speaking in the singular: "No one's asking me to comment at 5 a.m. I am because I care." Then they deleted the original Friday statement, taking all the bad comments with it -- which the critics called a cover-up.
Before dawn, the comments stopped, and Applebee's posted another official statement that didn't really apologize, referring only to "an unfortunate situation." That drew another 2,000 negative comments until everyone cooled off. It's one of the weirdest corporate social media experiences of all time.
Adam Richman vs. women
In 2014, Man vs. Food host Adam Richman posted an Instagram photo of his weight loss. He used the hashtag #thinspiration, which is actually a code word used online by bulimics and anorexics. He almost certainly didn't know this. Some of his social media followers told him, and suggested he delete the hashtag.
Instead, Richman went bonkers. He swore in all his responses, calling one commenter a "dummy" and another a "fool." Others he referred to as "haters and closed-minded loudmouths." He actually told one commenter "Seriously, grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you."
Despite vowing "No apology is coming"...Richman eventually posted an apology on Instagram -- and then deleted it. Then he issued a statement to E! which read, in part, “I’ve long struggled with my body and have worked very hard to achieve a healthy weight…Instead of responding to comments with compassion, I lashed out with anger.”
His new show Man Finds Food was set to debut a few weeks later, but Travel Channel was so concerned by the backlash that they delayed its premiere for ten months. All because he unknowingly misused a single word. He could have easily and plausibly apologized, but he "lashed out" instead.
Bikram Arlington offers a 9/11 discount
Companies never seem to learn what's appropriate on September 11. Unless you were directly affected by the attack -- like, say, United Airlines or Cantor Fitzgerald -- you probably shouldn't post anything. But Bikram Arlington yoga studio, located not far from the Pentagon in Virginia, decided to offer a discount on the anniversary: "9+11=20% OFF!"
People from all over Twitter tweeted complaints. Words like "disgusting" and "shame" were used. About 90 minutes later, the studio had a response, and it wasn't an apology. "The goal was to point out what date it was and associate to patriotism and to remember it. Its a shame some of you go to the negative." But that was followed a minute later by "Our apologies to those who were upset by it!" The original, offensive tweet stayed up.
Apology delivered. Controversy over, right? Bikram Arlington couldn't leave it there. Three minutes after the apology, the studio tweeted "If you want to be upset, research '911 building 7' and check the news because they are hearing "chatter" of us getting hit again." I guess the reference is to 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed hours after the Twin Towers and, like so much else about that day, is fodder for conspiracy theorists. What any of it has to do with the 20% discount or the apology is beyond me. The studio went silent after that.
Oh, and this was 2014. We weren't "hit again" after all.
McDonald's loses control of a hashtag
McDonald's promoted a tweet highlighting its partnership with local farmers: " 'When u make something w/pride, people can taste it,' – McD potato supplier #McDStories." That was it. The company didn't tweet any other #McDStories, ask people to share their own, or even define what the hashtag meant. So McDonald's critics had a field day using the hashtag to tweet about food poisoning, vomiting, and weight gain.
One #McDStory: "Found a fingernail in my Big Mac once." Another: "Never ate there again and became a vegetarian." Even some former employees joined in, sharing bad experiences with penny-pinching management or hostile customers. All McDonald's could do was pull the promoted tweet, but the hashtag took on a life of its own. The company itself estimated there were more than 1,500 negative uses of the hashtag in one day.
A few days later, McDonald's tried another promoted tweet with a new hashtag, #LittleThings. Unfortunately, that hashtag was already being used by DoubleTree Hotels. Only the company's hashtag #MeetTheFarmers survived the week unscathed.