By Catherine Mitchell - June 9th, 2015

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Whether a household name or an up-and-coming business, having a good social media presence can make the difference between long-term survival and short-term failure.

Let’s explore some of social media’s worst offenders and laziest marketing and customer service tactics. Take note, and you can easily make a blueprint for how to maintain a successful brand on social by doing the exact opposite. 

The Blame Game

One of the worst things that a company can do on social media is blame their customers. Notorious for this is Amy’s Baking Company, out of Scottsdale, Arizona.  

The restaurant faced a lot of criticism after appearing on Kitchen Nightmares, but it was facing issues on social before the episode even aired. Customers didn’t have many complaints about the food; it was the service and owners’ attitudes that were causing problems.


Instead of handling comments with grace and trying to improve their business, the bistro owners turned on their customers, ranting in all caps, admonishing any customers who had taken to Yelp or Reddit to vent their frustration with the restaurant.

Unlike most companies who apologize when they realize their mistake, the owners of Amy’s Baking Company continued to berate their audience without contrition. Since their story came to light, the business has suffered financially as a result of their social media tactics.

While many brands (see: US Airways) have developed a reputation for constantly apologizing on Twitter, the reverse is not a better solution. It’s necessary to strike a balance between listening and responding to your customers and keeping from turning your Twitter into automatic sorry generator, but being confrontational is never a good idea. 

Sensitivity Training

Almost all major companies experience a fail now and again, but few are subject to a top spot on the repeat offender list.

American Apparel, however, has made a name for itself in the world of insensitive tweets. When they offered a 20% off “Hurricane Sandy Sale” with the tweet, “In case you get bored during the storm” followers were outraged. Because of course, the greatest hardship everyone in the Northeast was facing during Sandy was boredom. Not, you know, their entire lives being washed away.


Another glorious display of bad taste came on July 4th 2014. The company took to Twitter with a picture of what their social media savvy employees must have thought were fireworks. Unfortunately, the image used to depict fireworks was none other than an image of the iconic 1986 explosion of the Challenger. I’d make a joke about the majority of American Apparel employees being born after 1986 if I wasn’t so unbearably sad.

With so many blunders on the web, American Apparel have gained a reputation for their continual insensitive remarks, and are banned and boycotted by many offended shoppers who refuse to forgive them.

With such a clear pattern of shocking tastelessness, one might suspect that all of this is intentional. They received more publicity for their ignorant July 4th tweet than they ever would have about some banal call to action and a picture of a Rocket Pop. But I’d like to meet the CMO who signed off on a social media plan titled ‘Trivializing Awful American Tragedies’.

Brand Hypocrisy

Black Milk Clothing Company made championing against negative remarks on women’s bodies one of their brand pillars, yet thanks to a Facebook post on May 4th, “Star Wars Day,” they contradicted their own values.

A Facebook posts shows Mayim Bialik of “The Big Bang Theory” in a Star Trek costume labeled “reality” alongside a conventionally “hot” woman in skin-tight Star Wars garb labeled “expectation” along with the caption “When I attempt to be a ‘geeky goddess.’” 


The company came under major scrutiny, and began to enter a web of social media mishaps trying to defend the post and the intention behind it . From the refusal to apologize, deletion of customers’ comments, and outright confrontation riddled with ridicule and negativity, fans quickly saw the hypocrisy of the retailer and began to “unlike” the site. 

While the post itself could be written off as little more than a gaffe or lame joke that didn’t come off, it’s the follow up that really hurts Black Milk’s brand. Social media has been around long enough that customers understand that brands make mistakes.

When DiGiorno makes a horrific but accidental  tweet ( about spousal abuse, we wince, but we don’t assume their goal was to undermine an organic outpouring of sympathy for the abused. However, in not just making but defending their post, Black Milk revealed that their employees, and by proxy their brand, have no affinity for or interest in the ongoing conversation around how we talk about women’s appearances.

The situation seems clear. Black Milk made no effort to educate their employees or build these more progressive views into their brand strategy. They just appropriated them to get likes and shares. Social media is more than just a place to make big mistakes, it’s a window into your brand. If it’s not healthy internally, disingenuousness, short-sightedness, and ignorance is sure to spill out eventually. 

These examples just scratch the surface of the miles-deep pile of posts crammed with badly-timed references, a lack of fact checking, or really bad planning. Making gaffes on social media does more than just affect your social media following. It has a lasting effect on the people who respect your brand and are willing to shop in your stores.

Take a note from socially aware and responsible businesses who aren’t willing to entrust their social media posts to the employees who are the least-experienced and lowest-down on their company’s hierarchy.

Handle every social media post with the same discretion you would an interview with a journalist or a televised interview: be sure your words won’t offend, won’t alienate, and won’t be taken out of context. Above all, make sure everything your business shares online is representative of your brand and is something that benefits, enlightens, or engages consumers in a positive way.

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