A Halloween Primer on How to Avoid Resurrecting the Ghosts of Social Media Nightmares Past

The shadow of an echidna logo being stabbed

It's Halloween. A night when all manner of creatures crawl in search of blood to terrorize your neighbourhood.

It's a night when ghouls and ghosts rise from the dead and make their presence known again. So I figured what better time to resurrect some classic social media nightmares, framing them in familiar horror movie tropes? Forgive me if the communicator, PR person, or marketer in you has trouble sleeping tonight.



You know the one... the sweet little girl who opens up her mouth only to reveal a voice from the bowels of the underworld? It happens to brands too.

Take, for example, Chrysler Autos. A few years back, the company had the following posted to its Twitter feed:

"I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive" 

First, swearing. Never needed in a business or professional context (most certaintly not in print). It's lazy, ineffective, and basically only has shock value after a three-year old drops the f-bomb at dinner.

Second... really make sure you make sure you know which account you're publishing from. It can happen easily if you're using a social media management tool. At this moment, I know I can post to at least a half-dozen Twitter feeds with the click of a mouse. Don't think I don't double-check. And what's appropriate for your private feed may not necessarily be the same for any corporate/public feeds that you manage.

Thirdly... it's always better to retain control of your own branding in such a visible forum. I get it -- Chrysler's a big company. But if it's at all possible, it's better to have your social efforts in-house (preferably by a dedicated staffer) so that it's an accurate reflection of the company's culture and is aligned with corporate goals and efforts.


Every movie there's that guy or girl who wanders in, "Hey, what's going..." And they're instantly killed by the antagonist. Being oblivious is a very real danger in the massive world of social media. Remember this?

"Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?"

That was @NRA_Rifleman -- on the day of the Aurora, CO. shootings. The organization alleges that one person, unaware of the tragedy, tweeted. Whether it was ignorance or pre-scheduling, it's clear it was the wrong time.

It's always a good idea to take the temperature of the social environment before tweeting something to make sure you're not going to unintentionally offend anyone. And accidents will happen, so in those cases apologize immediately.

Which leads us to...


Say the name three times and he'll appear. Or watch a video and you're going to die in a week. There are countless "do something seemingly innocuous and bad things will inevitably happen" films. On Twitter, that is the domain of the hashtag.

Take the example of #McDStories. It was supposed to be a positive, feel-good sharing of its supply chain focusing on farmers. It was hijacked by people criticizing the company for a whole array of issues. 

Now, the company handled it well, taking those criticisms and eventually developing a campaign to address those concerns. But it's always a good idea to consider the ramifications of your hashtags.

And it goes without saying that you should always explore what an existing hashtag is before you try to conscript it to your cause. Again, remember #Aurora? 


The movie Scream did an amazing job of parodying the formulaic approach to horror that shows that, historically, anyone who did certain actions (usually involving sex or drugs) in a film was destined to not see the final credits.

The prevalence of cameras on all manner of hand-held items has very real and potentially disastrous implications for your brand.

Domino's anyone? It shows the damage that just a couple of people can do to a global brand. People don't think about the thousands of quality employees doing good work -- everyone's tainted by the stain of a couple of people.

Those employees were quickly fired, obviously.

And again, like McDonald's, Domino's reacted quickly and took steps to mitigate the damage. But there's really not much you can do to prevent it. No amount of training and policy is going to stop someone from being a moron if he or she has that in them.


Some movies seem to exist only to cause the audience to say, "I didn't know you could do that to someone with [insert innocent household item here]." Online, few good ideas go unpunished. And worse than jumping a hashtag is the conscripting a holiday/remembrance to your cause.

Yes, I understand the irony of making this statement when I've used Halloween as the impetus for a blog post about "scary" things on social media. But I'm talking about the egregious exploitations. The "Arby's conscripting Martin Luther King Day and using their own brand tag line" type of exploitation.

It's OK to wish people well on holidays and share celebratory messages. It's not OK to wrap them into your marketing efforts. I think it's a pretty clear delineation. You don't want your marketing-focused well wishes to come back and blugeon your brand into submission.


So now it's over to you. What PR/communications/marketing horror stories have you experienced?

Questions Answered

What are the worst examples of social media mistakes?



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