Top 5 Online PR Disasters

Less than 7% of Fortune 500 companies are even on major social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. So, for these admitted online Public Relations Disasters, we really can’t blame them for trying. What we can do is point out the mistake, identify the opportunity, and all learn from someone else’s goof-up.

Red Cross The lesson here is to make sure anyone who is posting on behalf of a brand, is either very savvy or micromanaged. An employee of the American Red Cross posted an embarrassing tweet that went unnoticed on the brand’s Twitter feed for an hour. In Twitter-land, that’s more than enough time for people to take notice, and respond – it was reaction time. Thankfully for the brand they had a savvy PR pro at the helm who responded appropriately, and turned what could have been a not-for-profit nightmare into a fundraising opportunity!

Aussie Army Earlier this year, Australia’s Army had to answer to public outcry when serving military personnel posted racist and sexist comments on a private Facebook site. While the site was private, and we advise against interfering with the posts of friends/users, in this case, the “brand” had to get involved. To keep Facebook safe it’s up to the brand’s creator (in this case the Australian Army) to remove any posts that bully, intimidate, harass, or otherwise attack. The disaster here is not that it happened (as this was not the Army’s only allegations of abusive and sexist behavior), it’s that it wasn’t reacted to until someone blew the whistle.

Anthony Weiner We all know the story. Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. Boy (who is a New York U.S. State Representative) sends explicit photos of himself to her, via his public Twitter account. Oops. This is an extreme case, obviously, but we’ve seen this a lot across all social media outlets. The person participating in the social media activity doesn’t fully understand what public and viral mean. Here’s a key learning from Weiner’s devastating gaff: anything you send over your social properties can be used against you – so stop, think, then post.

Belkin The hardest thing for companies to accept, in this digital age, is that they are not in control of user feedback. Belkin decided (unwisely) to take that control back – and not surprisingly – it backfired. The company posted an ad offering payment for a 5/5 positive review of any one of their products. Unfortunately for them, a savvy young consumer stumbled upon the ad and decided to blog about it. The story then got picked up by the New York Times. It took mere hours for this blunder to become public and create a windstorm of bad press. What Belkin failed to realize is that if their product deserved good reviews, it would get them organically. There are other ways to gain positive feedback, and it starts with basic business 101.


  • Make sure you’ve got a communications strategy associated with your social properties.
  • Having a PR and Social Media savvy partner at the helm will help you maintain a positive and engaging presence on your social media properties.
  • Monitor your social properties daily so you understand what the dialogue is between your brand and your audience. 
  • And, above all, DON’T send inappropriate images of yourself over any social media sites!