I speak a lot to student and marketers alike about social media crisis management as I believe it can have a huge impact on a brand’s reputation and share price if you get it wrong. Even today I am amazed at how many brands just pass the social media content to the most junior member of the team. Everything is fine and dandy until the shit hits the fan and things start to unravel – this is usually when the PR team are called in and start to earn their wages and all of a sudden they start getting listened to, and taken much more seriously.

A few years ago, I helped write Share This Too which became the CIPR’s social media handbook and the area I covered was social media crises. I did that because I like to see how companies have dealt with challenging situations and how they played out. Unfortunately, most crises aren’t heavily publicised and so it can be challenging for practitioners to learn the best practices in crisis management, so I felt a section on social media crises would be really useful.

I am giving another of my lectures soon and as part of this I have been researching some of the worst social crises of 2017. I thought it would be good to share some of them, here are my top ten.

1. United Airlines Drops The Ball

This is probably the most well known crises from this year as United Airlines hasn’t had the best year. It all stemmed from a video which was leaked of a passenger being dragged off of a plane by security, when he was chosen at random to give up his seat for airline maintenance workers, and refused to do so, might I add (all is fair, he did pay for his seat). This video is terrible for the brand and how they handled it was even worse. The video ended up going viral on the internet and making it to all of the main news channels.

The video was bad enough but when the United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz attempted to make the standard PR apology, as any decent PR person would normally recommend. Instead of taking full responsibility for their terrible heavy handed actions he bizarrely congratulated his staff for following the correct procedures and called the bloodied passenger belligerent. I mean seriously who the hell advised this guy – Sean Spicer? Any idiot could see that this was handled really badly and I am sure it will be used as a case study in what not to do for years to come.


2. Dove Gives Women More Body Issues

Now, it is no secret that some people can sometimes feel a little insecure about their body image so who needs to add more issues to their plates? Well, Dove thinks women do apparently.

The brand went viral on social media in early May – not always a good thing in this instance. In its on-going attempt to try and make women more comfortable with their bodies, the team decided they were going to redesign their shampoo bottles to reflect different body types, which in turn had the complete opposite effect that it was meant to.

In short a social disaster!

To many women, this indirectly confirmed that there was a ‘best’ or ‘right’ body type after all (p.s. there isn’t). The question on everyone’s lips was: ‘Do you choose the bottle that matches your body type?’ I mean I can’t talk my body type wouldn’t be very flattering either but this should have been thought through just a little bit more.


3. Pepsi Doesn’t Understand That Black Lives Matter

Pepsi seemed to miss a lot of red flags when it created its new campaign based on peace and understanding, and a backdrop of protest against police brutality. Immediately after the promotion was released, users of social media called for an immediate boycott against Pepsi (they often don’t waste time) and accused the company of undermining the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as exploiting it to sell products.

However, Pepsi’s response was quick and they apologised and immediately removed the ad. This did almost feel like the brand did it to get people talking as it went everywhere but we will give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Maybe Oscar should take a leaf out of their book.


4. McDonald’s Trashes The President

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Is this necessarily a bad thing? I mean Donald hasn’t had the best start to his campaign of change. The Russian link simply won’t go away no matter how many people he fires.

In March, McDonald’s released a tweet trashing President Trump that was nothing less than brutal as it stated: “You are actually a disgusting excuse of a President and we would love to have Barack Obama back, also you have tiny hands.”

I actually find this funny, they even insulted his hands which was a tad random.


It turns out that it was just hackers who published the tweet and not McDonald’s themselves but it doesn’t look very good on the brand’s part but what can you do if you get hacked? Not much all you can do is apologise profusely and hope that not too much brand damage has been done.


5. Uber Backs The Wrong Horse

As taxi companies in New York created a cause to protest against President Trump’s immigration ban, they tried to get Uber and Lyft involved. Apparently, Uber instantly took advantage of this situation and aimed a tweet in order to promote its service after suspending “surge” prices. Many saw this as an attempt to undermine the movement. Whereas, Lyft sent out a message of solidarity and announce a $1 million donation to the ACLU. A #hashtag was created of #DeleteUber that went viral in response to this commotion and Lyft was boosted in users.

Lyft 1 Vs Uber 0


6. Adidas Chooses Unfortunate Words

This is as simple as using a poor choice of words by the brand. After the Boston Marathon that took place this year, the company tweeted: “Congrats, you’ve survived the Boston Marathon!” which inadvertently recalls imagery of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Oh dear Adidas – I feel your pain that was not meant to be insensitive and was probably just human error.

At least, the brand deleted the tweet as soon as they realised, but the damage had already been done.


7. The Federal Department of Education Fails to Educate

Spelling mistakes and typos aren’t that big of a deal, right? Well they are to us PRs but if you’re the Department of Education they definitely are. This year, the Department of Education sent out a tweet misspelling W.E.B Dubois’ name, then in an attempt to resolve the issue they wrote an apology but misspelled apologies as apologizes. I wouldn’t have like to have been the person responsible for writing that one. I think the pressure of the social media onslaught might have had something to do with that.




8. The PwC Accountant Caused The Major Oscars Blunder Because He Was Sending A Tweet

As I’m sure almost everyone has heard, earlier this year back in February, there was a rather major blunder at the Oscars where the award for Best Picture was given to the wrong film on live TV which is an epic fail by anyone’s standards!

It turned out it wasn’t the fault of one of the presenters. No, the error was caused by PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant Brian Cullinan and yes social media. He had one job and that was to make sure the right cards went into the right envelopes but he became distracted by Twitter (ironic) and gave one of the presenters, Betty, the wrong envelope. Now that is embarrassing.


9. Nivea Accidentally Leans Into the White Supremacy Movement

Thanks to an advertising campaign recently released by Nivea, the Middle East now thinks it is part of the White Supremacy Movement. It was for its product ‘Invisible for Black & White’ deodorant so they were already vulnerable to making a mistake with the name itself. (They should have seen the red flags really in the boardroom brainstorm).  In the ad campaign, Nivea proclaimed that ‘White Is Purity.’ RED FLAG AGAIN. It was okay however, because Twitter users were on the case and decided to tell them how tone deaf their campaign really was.

Nivea, however, did apologise but to everyone out there in the viral universe it didn’t really seem sincere as it stated: “The Nivea Middle East post was not meant to be offensive. We apologise. It’s been removed. Nivea values diversity and tolerance.”

Was that last line taken from a quote?



10. Snapchat Manages To Offend Two Different Countries With One Quote

Now, this originally started back in 2015 when there was a meeting, and CEO Ethan Spiegel brushed off the idea of increasing support overseas by stating:

“This app is only for rich people. I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.”

The comments were a bit harsh coming from the creator of an app that is mainly FREE. The information later arose in April of this year when Anthony Pompliano told Variety about Spiegel’s rather crazy statement – I love a good crazy CEO statement as you can tell. This caused an uproar in India as the 1.3 billion people responded by not just telling Spiegel to get ‘effed’ on Twitter with the #BoycottSnapchat, but they also uninstalled the app and left a 1-star rating. Ouch. That must have caused a bruise in his ego – some CEOs certainly need to think through their comments on occasion as this was just plain stupid.

So there it is. My top 10 social media blunders of 2017, so far. Now, it is extremely tricky to not get caught in a blunder but if you want my advice, it is mainly about choosing your wording or imagery correct. Make sure you double check everything before sending out into the social world and you should be fine.


11. Asda Nappy Gate

I had originally written 10 campaigns for this list but one caught my eye just last night, which was a picture of an Asda nappy which appeared on Facebook and has now gone viral due to a chemical reaction. On Saturday the father wrote on Facebook:

“So Saturday yesterday morning has to be the worst day of our lives so far, we opened a fresh pack of newborn little angels to put on the baby, we go to change the nappy an hour later, and these pictures are the results.”


I have to say I feel really sorry for the parents as we used those nappies from time to time and they were fine for our little ones but this is horrendous. Asda has responded swiftly by recalling the product from the shelves. This just shows how fast social media can affect your product or brand. In less than 24hrs a product is off the shelves and for that the supermarket should be praised as nobody wants their little one to end up like this.

If I were Asda I would pay for all of their hospital treatment and make sure the family are catered for in every way.


About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.