“Post has been published.” And now there’s no turning back. 

We all know the feeling when your heart starts beating faster, and you see things are not going your way. The campaign you created with your team has taken a wrong turn, and a wave of negativity begins to wash over your brand.

Every reaction, every answer counts now – it’s up to you how the whole affair will develop further.

💡 Read Crisis Management 101: How to Save Your Business When a Crisis Strikes

Let’s take a look at these social media crisis examples that could have been prevented and draw some useful conclusions from them.

The Internet doesn’t forget. Even a good crisis management strategy can’t prevent unexpected slip-ups. In this case, you only have one option – learn how to deal with them and react at the very moment when they occur.

What is a Social Media Crisis?

The answer may seem obvious, but it’s a reasonable question. How do you know when a mishap becomes a crisis?

Simply put, a social media crisis is anything that could negatively impact your business’s reputation and reception through social media.

Negative sentiment spike during crisis
Negative sentiment spike during famous singer Lizzo’s crisis

It’s much more than one negative opinion or comment under a post. A crisis is a situation that creates a wave of offensive statements which get out of your control.

Read Four Crisis Management Steps to Take to Stop a Disaster

Types of social media crises

Social media crises can even be classified into types:

  • Multi-channel crisis – extremely dangerous because it has the potential to go viral and generate a great deal of negative publicity very quickly.
  • Emerging crisis If you don’t anticipate and deal with it as soon as possible, it can quickly escalate into a bigger scandal.
  • Industry crisis – occurs when a vendor or competitor is experiencing a social media crisis. For example, when many fashion brands are suddenly all attacked for non-transparent actions.
  • Fake news – in the age of social media, a post can go viral in just one click. The ability to detect rumors about your brand quickly is essential.

Read 5 Key Elements Every Social Media Crisis Plan Needs

It is important to remember not to wait for the situation to calm down on its own – that won’t happen. You have to react immediately.

Unfortunately, some PR managers think it would be better to delete a post and pretend that nothing happened. Don’t be like them. 

We scoured the Internet to find the scandals that caused the biggest uproars over the years. The following social media crises should serve as reminders to you of how not to handle image disasters.

Read Social Media Crisis Management Guide – What to Do When Disaster Strikes

Social Media Crisis Examples

Example 1: Give Orangutans a Break

What happened:

In 2010, Greenpeace launched a campaign to highlight how Nestlé’s sourcing of palm oil was endangering orangutans in Indonesia. They parodied the KitKat slogan, changing it to “Have a break? Give orangutans a break.”

The YouTube video quickly became a viral hit because it revealed the problem bluntly – the video presented a bored office worker taking a break to enjoy a KitKat but instead biting into an orangutan’s finger.

This is an example of a campaign designed for a good purpose but was controversial enough to cause Nestlé many problems.

Read Crisis Communications Plan In 8 Steps

Where this brand went wrong:

How did Nestlé deal with this social media crisis? The word “deal” is overused here. They did nothing more than remove the video, alleging Greenpeace of copyright infringement. What’s more, Nestlé received many social media comments, but they decided to delete every mention that wasn’t in their favor.

How this problem could have been prevented:

Nestlé showed by its actions that it was trying to hide the problem at all costs. This wasn’t a good idea because it only fueled people to continue talking about it. If someone has a negative opinion about your brand, let them speak. Nestlé should have calmly explained their side and tried some greenwashing strategy.

Read Controversial PR: How To Get Your Consumers Talking About Your Brand

Tip! It’s much easier to handle a social media crisis if you know where the discussion originated. Determ allows you to track every hashtag, comment, and mention of your brand so that you can react immediately.

Example 2: Tag scandal

Veclaim social media crisis example

What happened:

While promoting the brand Veclaim, Jessica Mercedes, a founder, assured that they produce all their clothes in Poland. One of the things that she stressed repeatedly was the high quality of her clothes. “Made in Poland” was the trademark of her brand.

When it turned out that some of the t-shirts she sold were based on Fruit of the Loom clothing (a famously cheap t-shirt brand), social media erupted in outrage. It turned out that the original tags had simply been torn off and replaced with Veclaim labels.

The Internet was quickly filled with comments from embittered customers of the brand who felt cheated and a wave of criticism fell upon the brand.

Where this brand went wrong:

On the brand’s Facebook profile, many unfavorable comments were deleted, while on the brand’s Instagram and Jessica Mercedes’ profile, the ability to comment on posts was disabled.

What is more, the information stating “all our products are made in Poland” disappeared from the Veclaim website.

The official statement only made matters worse – it lacked an apology, and the brand’s explanation was poorly written and did not explain anything.

Read Four Crisis Management Steps to Take to Stop a Disaster

How this problem could have been prevented:

By responding to the first signs of trouble. Instead of reacting loudly and writing a statement, they pretended that nothing had happened, and that’s never a good idea (especially on the Internet).

Tip! If a brand uses a social media listening tool, it can quickly detect emerging mentions. They would be able to react swiftly and clarify an emerging situation before it escalates.

Example 3: Sorry, you’re not going to fly

United Airlines’ social media crisis

What happened:

This is an example of how to turn a PR social media crisis into a total disaster. One day in 2017, United Airlines Flight 3411 was overbooked. The airline decided to draw 4 random passengers who would not be able to fly and asked them to vacate their seats to make room for 4 airline employees. When the crew requested a pulmonologist to surrender his seat, he refused, saying that he needed to see a patient the following day (which was understandable, as he had paid for that seat).

After that, security appeared on the plane and forcibly dragged the man off the plane with a bleeding face. A fellow passenger recorded the whole situation on the flight and immediately posted it online.

A video of the incident went viral on social media, stoking anger over the violent action. One such video was shared 87,000 times and viewed 6.8 million times in less than a day. 

Many politicians expressed concern and called for an official investigation. Donald Trump criticized United Airlines, saying the airline’s treatment of the passenger was “horrible.”

Where this brand went wrong:

The following day, the then-CEO of United Airlines, Oscar Munoz, issued a statement that appeared to justify the removal of the passenger. And it gets worse.

After that, Munoz sent an email to United Airlines staff, and the media somehow obtained it. Munoz said the passenger was “disruptive and belligerent” and that employees “followed established procedures.”

The email contained utterly different information from the official statement. This caused more online fury. United shares plummeted in value dramatically.

Read Crisis Management Plan: How to Keep Your Business Afloat?

How this problem could have been prevented:

A coherent, sincere message at first. The airline should have responded to each and every comment with complete respect. There was no reason for them to blame a passenger whose safety they should have been prioritizing. They should have explained the whole situation.

Example 4: YouTube scandal

Domino’s social media crisis

What happened: 

Even though this one is an old example, we should mention it as a precaution. It was Easter Sunday in Conover in the USA, and the Domino’s food chain was in danger. 

Two employees, counting on their popularity (in which they succeeded), shared a YouTube video in which they showed how to prepare the food in one of Domino’s restaurants.

There would be nothing wrong with the situation, but there was one problem: they did it in an awfully disgusting manner. We won’t go into details because you don’t want to know them, but after watching this video you wouldn’t be willing to eat there for sure.

The reaction of people was immediate. Within three days, the video had been viewed more than one million times, and Domino’s dominated Google search results for all the wrong reasons.

Read PR Statistics 2024: Trends and Challenges in PR

PR Crisis Management Ebook

Where this brand went wrong:

Customer perception of Domino’s brand turned negative within hours of the unfortunate publication. Despite this, Domino’s reaction took a very long time – they waited a few days before making a statement in which they apologized for the whole situation.

How this problem could have been prevented:

Domino’s marketing team should have reacted as soon as the video was published. They shouldn’t have allowed people to spread fake news. However, we do have to take into account that it was one of the first such colossal Internet scandals.

They didn’t have experience with good crisis management (Domino’s had just assembled a social media team a month before), and they didn’t want to make any hasty decisions.

Nevertheless, if the whole situation happened now, they would probably react very differently and they would know that in such a case, every minute and every “view” matters.

Detect – React – Prevent

Preventing a social media crisis is possible if you react quickly and detect the dangers as soon as they occur.

It’s apparent that you can’t monitor the whole Internet all the time. However, this problem can be solved. Are people spreading rumors about your brand? A social media monitoring tool, like Determ, will keep you informed and notify you as soon as somebody mentions your business online.

You don’t need to consider if the mention is negative because Determ automatically detects the sentiment. This will allow you to respond faster and see only those mentions that matter. Manage crises more effectively by visiting every article, hashtag, or comment as soon as they’re published.

By using Determ, you can be sure that you are doing everything in your power to avoid appearing on the list above. Do you want to start?

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