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Social media is a highly competitive space, with many brands competing for the consumer’s attention. The short life span of social posts and the need to stand out often results in a rush to churn out something creative. But sometimes a creative idea isn’t as well-received by the public as a brand thinks it will be…

For big businesses with large followings, social media blunders attract a lot of attention and outrage. Many corporations, however, have the staff and resources in place to weather through a PR disaster. Small businesses do not.

In this blog post, we’ll be looking at five times a social media marketing campaign missed the mark with its audience, and some tips for small businesses owners on how to avoid them.


Reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Earlier this week, Burger King sent out the following tweet:

“Women belong in the kitchen.”

The tweet was designed to highlight the gender imbalance within the restaurant industry, as well as promote their new scholarship programme to support female employees to pursue culinary careers.

This tactic quickly backfired, attracting outrage from the public. Many Twitter users complained about the fast food chain reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes, especially on International Women’s Day.

And this social media blunder isn’t a unique one either! Appliance manufacturer Miele posted an image of four women looking excited over a washer and dryer on their Facebook page. This was also for International Women’s Day, and drew criticism for reinforcing the 1950s housewife stereotype.

After exchanging some quips with angry Twitter users, Burger King finally saw sense, deleted the offending tweet and issued an apology.

How to avoid: Stay away from traditional stereotypes in your marketing and develop a good understanding of your audience. Slip-ups can happen, and when they do, you should listen to your audience, apologise and focus on how you do better moving forward.

For more ways to think about your website’s visitors and start understanding your audience, we recommend checking out our blog post: 5 Questions To Ask Yourself About Your Website’s Visitors.



Tone deaf marketing campaigns.

Rubbing your audience up the wrong way is not just limited to gender stereotypes. Dove’s Transformation Ad, which shows a black woman turning into a white one, is just one example of a marketing campaign which was heavily criticised for being tone deaf.

Brands posting in the first person is a recent trend in marketing. On social media platforms, it blends in with user posts, showing a human side to even the biggest and most faceless of corporations.

Back in 2019, Sunny D adopted this tactic, and released the following controversial tweet:

I can’t do this anymore

The tweet attracted a mixed response. Negative comments accused the brand of being insensitive and making light of mental illness. It’s likely that poor timing was a factor here. The tweet was posted alongside many high-profile performers sharing troubling messages about mental health on their social media accounts.

How to avoid: Be aware of current events and trending topics on social media. Be careful about riffing off sensitive topics for your marketing campaigns, especially if you’re focusing on something attached to a social issue.


Holiday hashtag fail.

British baking firm Warburton went down in history for biggest social media blunders when they accidentally hijacked a furry hashtag.

Holiday Instagram hashtag #CrumpetCreations was meant to promote tasty recipes made by their followers using their brand’s famous crumpets. This hashtag, however, was already in use by the online furry community – which doesn’t exactly coincide with the family-focused ethos of Warburton’s!

How to avoid: Before launching your next hashtag campaign, do your research. Make sure that, if it’s in use by another community, it doesn’t clash or distract from your own.



Tricking your audience.

You’ve heard of clickbait. What about swipebait?

Chinese sneaker manufacturer Kaiewei Ni posted a Black Friday ad to their Instagram Stories. It was designed to look like there was a stray hair on the middle of the phone screen.

This was a clever, yet sneaky tactic to get people to swipe up on the ad and be redirected to their site. Instagram removed the ad for its policy violations and disabled the account from advertising in the future.

How to avoid: Don’t treat your audience like fools. There’s better ways to get people to engage with your content which doesn’t involve tricking them.

Kaiewei Ni’s engagement tactic was just downright annoying… We talk more about annoying social media “hacks” over on this blog post: The Most Annoying Things You Don’t Want To Do On Social Media.


Censoring your audience.

Much like the Nestlé and palm oil controversy, jam and jelly manufacturer Smucker’s attracted online criticism for their stance on GMO (genetically modified organism) labelling.

Instead of responding to the negative comments, Smucker’s social media team decided just to delete them. This was picked up by the media, who published stories that gave the negative comments a wider reach, as well as attracting more angry fans.

The social media scandal may have helped the brand by attracting publicity. Any publicity is good publicity, right?

But as we mentioned in this post’s introduction, what works for big businesses doesn’t always translate over to new and small businesses.

It’s also clear that Smucker’s never intended to gain publicity this way. Quite the opposite, really. They were doing damage control!

How to avoid: Deleting negative comment can be as problematic as responding poorly to them. Sometimes mistakes are made. Pobody’s nerfect. Instead of silencing your audience, show that you are listening and respond in a professional, non-confrontational manner.

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