From being a platform to remain connected with friends and relatives to being the primary source of news and information for many, no-one needs to be convinced of the power of social media as a tool for engagement. Social media can be a good platform for showcasing your brand’s story and advertising your services and products in a creative and eye-catching manner.

That being said, a social media posting “fail” or mishap by a business can lead to serious and permanent damage to the brand. Brands remain under constant scrutiny by a public audience that doesn’t miss anything and easily turns on you.

Real life examples of online fails

There are many examples of simple mistakes in social media marketing and it is important to consider this to understand the consequences of not having proper structures in place for your marketing team.

Snapchat felt the wrath of social justice when they ran an advertisement for a “Would You Rather?” game. The game asked whether you would rather punch Chris Brown or slap Rihanna. As most people are aware, Rihanna was assaulted by her then boyfriend Brown in 2009, making this an extremely insensitive question. Rihanna took to her Instagram (where she has 85 million followers) to question Snapchat’s decision, stating that they are offending victims of domestic violence. Snapchat lost millions of users, causing a drop in their share price and costing the company in the region of $800 million.

The fashion house, Dolce & Gabbana, ran an Instagram campaign video that featured a Chinese woman struggling to eat Italian food with chopsticks. Again, the public immediately shunned the advertisement for racism and the brand had to cancel its fashion show in China, costing it millions.

Locally, Standard Bank made the mistake of jumping on the “MakeAWomanSmileIn3Words” hashtag on Twitter to try and promote its credit cards by tweeting: “Here’s your credit-card #MakeAWomanSmileIn3Words”. Twitter users were quick to call the bank out for sexism, saying the tweet portrayed women as money-hungry gold-diggers.

The Department of Education posted a tweet to highlight the importance of education in South Africa. Unfortunately, the tweet misspelled “W.E.B DuBois” as “DeBois” and Twitter had a field day. Considering that this tweet came from an organization that is supposed to stand for the importance of reading and writing, this mistake reflected badly on their cause and values. To make matters worse, the Department tweeted an apology but again had a spelling error in the tweet.

The Swedish branch of Pepsi ran Facebook advertisements with a voodoo-doll of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo in various painful poses. A 100 000-strong anti-Pepsi group was created on Facebook in a single day.

This is the power of social media and the quest for social justice by keyboard warriors. Brands need to be careful when posting online and ensure frontline employees understand the brand’s values when creating advertisements.

Using Influencers

Brands often partner up with social media influencers who have credibility in a particular industry and a large following to promote the brand to their followers. It is an extremely lucrative advertising model.

Choosing your influencer wisely is very important as this person effectively becomes an ambassador of your brand. Working with an influencer who is unprofessional, careless or merely problematic in the eyes of the public (for whatever reason due to their personal life), will affect your brand in a negative way.

In an embarrassing blunder, Scott Disick copy-pasted a company’s instructions to him directly into his Instagram post. The caption revealed that the brand had given him all the details seamlessly, including the caption and the time of the post. Supermodel, Naomi Campbell, made the same mistake when she posted a photo on Instagram with a pair of Adidas shoes and forgot to edit the instructions from Adidas’ marketing team.

These trivial errors immediately attracted a lot of negative publicity for the brand and the influencers as it was clear that the influencer knew nothing about the brand or the product they are seemingly advertising as his/her personal favourite. The public does not like being lied to.

There are also a multitude of examples of brands breaking off their partnerships with influencers when they do not fit the values of the brand any longer. Unfortunately, this sometimes happens too late and the damage has already been done. As a business, you won’t know what the future holds and what influencers can get themselves into.

It is critical for brands to vet influencers and ambassadors thoroughly before committing to work with them. If something goes wrong, make sure you have the proper terms in your contracts to enable you to end the relationship immediately. Otherwise, you risk your brand being boycotted.

It is also important to make sure your marketing team and your influencer understand the advertising regulations of South Africa when posting to social media. If the rules are not followed, this will have legal consequences for the brand.


Social media can be a highly effective way to increase brand awareness, but only if used properly. The online world is like a double-edged sword. While on the one hand it is very convenient for brands to connect with a world-wide customer base, on the other, it leaves the brand very exposed to criticism and backlash.