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The Perils of Social Media 

‘United breaks guitars!’ Who remembers that famous tagline?

United Airlines was one of the first brands to suffer at the hands of social media way back in 2008. They were attacked on YouTube by a frustrated musician, Dave Carroll who claimed that United Airline damaged his band’s instruments during a flight and then refused to take responsibility. The worst part of the incident is that Dave warned United of his video prior to its release and they dismissed it without a second thought. Wow, times have changed.

Here’s a taste of why Dave’s campaign to grab United’s attention was such a hit, the song even hit number 1 on iTunes.

More and more, brands are being damaged through social media as they underestimate the power platforms such as, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter give consumers. Brands must work to protect their reputations more than ever before.

A UK journalist cleverly observed:

The Internet loves a marketing disaster. It makes few allowances for the brands that try and fail. It never forgets. And it rarely forgives.

A more recent brand to fall victim to social media is McDonald who tried to use its own hashtag #mcdstories to promote its brand and engage with customers. What resulted instead was a torrent of horror stories and cynical criticisms from McDonald haters.


Both United Airlines and McDonald’s have undoubtedly learnt a lot from these disasters.

However, here are a few pointers on how to avoid such a debacle to begin with:

  1. Define clear business objectives for using social media: do not enter into social media without a plan
  2. Don’t be naïve, be aware of the risks: those critical of your brand are just as likely to seek you out on social media as those loyal to your brand
  3. Monitor, monitor, monitor
  4. Establish clear policies on how to respond to a social media crisis

What do you think brands should do to avoid a social media catastrophe?