14 Oct 2015

5 Common Business Facebook Fails (And How To Prevent Them)

posted in Traffic



Everyone loves Facebook fails.

Why? Because we’re so glad that we’re not the ones who failed. We’re so amazed that someone has managed to come off as that ridiculous that we can’t help but look up cringeworthy Facebook conversations for the fun of it.

Everyone loves Facebook fails.

Why? Because we’re so glad that we’re not the ones who failed. We’re so amazed that someone has managed to come off as that ridiculous that we can’t help but look up cringeworthy Facebook conversations for the fun of it.

But when it come to businesses screwing up on Facebook, the stakes are higher. Where an embarrassing post might be cringeworthy to your dad, a bad post by a brand can bring on serious blowback. And the social media scene is especially complicated for small or local businesses, who have arguably the most to lose.

Here are some (worryingly) common Facebook fails that businesses make and how to avoid them.



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Facebook Fail #1: Bad Jokes

“Two silk worms were in a race, they ended up in a tie.”

...but I don’t mean this kind of bad joke. The kind of bad joke that can seriously damage a business is the kind that’s made in bad taste on Facebook.

What’s frightening is that sometimes it isn’t immediately evident that you’ve made a bad joke:

“How wacky, that plane’s on an icy slip n’ slide!” Source.

Cute, right?

Except that this isn’t a cheeky photoshop job. That’s a real-life image of Southwest Airline flight 1248, which slid off the runway of Chicago-Midway airport into traffic. This flub would be terrible enough as is because any accident is stressful and frightening. But this accident also caused the death of a six-year-old child.

Mistakes of this magnitude can be made just as easily by small businesses as by large ones. As an example, let’s say you want to create some marketing materials that comically convey that a situation’s out of hand. Luckily, you find an old-timey, royalty-free image of a flaming building that’s perfect (because your customers need your wedding planning services to put out fires, hurr hurr!)

Only that photo’s from the Great Factory Fire of 1909, which killed 200 workers and is iconic in the fight for workers’ safety rights. Now you know that your joke is referencing the tragic history of workers' rights.

Bad luck, chum.

How to prevent this Facebook fail

Brands use humor to connect to fans all the time. But it’s a dangerous game to play, especially if you’re making light of something instead of using observational humor. After all, making light of something inherently means that it must be somewhat dark to begin with.

Businesses need to be able to speak to their target audience effectively, but they can’t do it at the expense of other people’s feelings or dignity. If your “joke” harms someone, your brand will be held accountable for it.

So what do you do? You research. You research the hell of out of your jokes.

Research what materials you use to make sure they’re appropriate, including images, phrases, hashtags, and news you’d like to comment on. Context is everything.

Like humor in general, part of Facebook’s charm is that it’s in-the-moment, designed to allow immediate expression. But when businesses engage, they need to think through their messaging long and hard before they hit “Post.”

Your best bet is to have a cohesive social media policy and to keep your brand’s voice separate from your personal voice. Individuals can recover from bad jokes much more easily than a business can.


Facebook Fail #2: Mishandled Public Relations

Botched public relations are a mess, no matter which platform you’re interacting on. Whether they stem from misunderstandings or malice, the outcome is never good.

Facebook, like most social media platforms, has been touted as an excellent tool for connecting with customers. And it is. But that also means that it’s a platform ripe for causing huge amounts of havoc on your brand’s reputation.

The most famous example to date has been Amy’s Baking Company. When faced with public scrutiny following their experience with Gordon Ramsay on the reality TV show Kitchen Nightmares, these entrepreneurs chose to lose their minds on Facebook, much to the delight and/or alarm of witnesses:

This is just one post of many where the bowels of PR Hell belched up a firestorm of horror/hilarity. The owners have claimed since that they didn’t post these things and that they’d been hacked, but at this point it doesn’t matter if that’s true. The damage has been done. They shuttered their doors this September.

Offending customers is always a fail in business, without exception. And really, I don’t rightly feel the need to expand upon all the ways that Amy’s Baking Company crashed and burned. That whole situation is pretty self-evident.

Not the face of a PR guru. Source.

But smaller screwups happen all the time, like when a well-meaning employee engages a Facebook fan and offends them entirely by accident (instead of cursing them out for hours). Even something as simple as trying to use friendly language can come off as unprofessional instead.

A response to a complaint with “Heya, we’ll get right on that,” could be charming or it could be dismissive. Or worse, a gym could comment on how a celebrity who has lost weight looks fantastic — only for that celebrity to come out about their eating disorder.

You don’t need to explode on Facebook to get an explosive response from a customer. Much like natural disasters, toddlers, and the stock market, PR disasters are hard to predict. The smallest interaction can go South, go viral, and drive your business’s reputation into the ground.

How to prevent this Facebook fail

Facebook fails are exceptional for the same reasons that marketing on Facebook is exceptional — it’s where your customers live. So making a scene right where people hang out is bad for any business whose reputation will affect its success. Which is all of them.

Amy’s crippling mistake (one of her crippling mistakes, at least) is that she fell victim to “trolls” and “haters” online, engaging with negative people in a destructive way that fed the flames. The best way to avoid these kinds of errors is to do your homework and work to have a good grasp of public relations. You need to be able to identify the moment a Facebook interaction begins turning sour and shift gears into damage-control mode.

For many people, treading PR waters is tricky and often terrifying. If you can afford a social media director and/or a PR expert on your payroll, that’s your best bet. However, if you can’t, here are some resources for you to explore to help you find your PR footing:

Facebook Fail #3: Like-gating for Charities

I so wish that this wasn’t a necessary section. I so, so wish that people were good or smart enough to know that it’s a Bad Idea to view tragedies or crises as an opportunity to get Likes on Facebook. Yet here we are.

Let’s start with Papa John’s, who wanted to support The Salvation Army because #PapaJohnsCares about feeding undernourished children. Just not quite as much as #PapaJohnsCares about Facebook likes.

Saying that you’ll only donate in exchange for an interaction sounds less like “We can do it, gang!” and more like “We’ll hold these donations hostage until you tell us we’re cool.”

But even this ill-conceived campaign has a theoretical end-result of donating to a charity. There are those who take this like-gating faux-pas in a more personal and EVEN LESS USEFUL direction.

This plug by MSN is a truly shameless ploy to capitalize on sympathies to get unearned community support. It piggybacks off of real-world sorrows that affect real-world people. What did you do, MSN? Did you send these likes to Robin Gibb’s loved ones? “Dear Gibb family, We’d like to offer these 5,146 Likes to help soothe your pain in this difficult time. You’re welcome.”

How to prevent this Facebook fail

Let’s begin with the fact that Like-gating is against Facebook’s rules as of November 5th, 2014. So it’s a really good way to tempt penalization and lose ALL visibility to your fans.

On top of that, there’s the gross factor. See, there’s a school of thought that social media is a force for good and can be used to great effect when connecting people and informing them of things going on in the world. This is admirable and optimistic and inspiring.

Like-gating for humanitarian purposes actively preys upon this school of thought. Instead of legitimately pointing people to useful resources or offering aid where it’s needed, companies leverage people’s urge to help in order to promote themselves. They also end up tacking their name onto the efforts of legitimate organizations—or legitimate grief.

There isn’t much to say other than that Like-gating in these situations is slimy and is about as looked-down-upon as it should be. Don’t do it.

Instead, if you really want to provide help for charities and stir up feelings of community, you can offer to match donations made by your customers. And if you want to comment on a tragedy, don’t. Easy peasy.


Facebook Fail #4: Posting Irrelevant Content

Knowing what’s relevant to your audience is a big deal, maybe the biggest of deals. But sticking to what interests your audience isn’t the only thing you need to worry about. You also need to consider whether you’re stepping too far outside of your business’s purview.

Speaking out about subjects irrelevant to your business can lead to many problems, some worse than others.

On the “worse problems” end of the spectrum, we have this example:

Someone on the 7-Eleven social media team clearly thought that Mental Health Month was relevant enough for a mini-mart chain to comment on, which is dubious at best. And beyond that, this person also thought that mental health was an acceptable thing to joke about. Rare to see such a clear double whammy of “Why are you commenting on this?” and “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Small businesses are especially susceptible when it comes to relevance because it’s often a business owner manning the Facebook controls. When it’s just you talking about the company that you created from nothing, it can be difficult to remember to separate your personal opinions from what you should be sharing on behalf of your business.

How to prevent this Facebook fail

If the content isn’t relevant to your business, don’t post it. If you run a dry cleaner, chances are that no one will look to your business as an authority when it comes to politics. Even if your target audience is a ridiculously politically-minded group, that does not mean that you should jump into the fray.

Seriously. You should not. Source.

The difficulty of posting irrelevant content is that it comes with a sister fail that’s easy to fall into. If you’re posting outside of your purview, you’re out of line and your posts will be unwelcome. But if you overcorrect and only spout your brand message, your posts will be unvaried, uninteresting, and too self-serving to attract any engagement. Bear in mind that only ever writing about your business on your Facebook comes across as spammy and boring, so make sure you’re broaching topics other than how great your business is.

When you’re not sure whether you’re toeing the line too closely, ask yourself whether the subject you’d like to comment on is one that you want your business to be an authority on. If someone walked into your place of business and asked about that subject, would you be prepared to speak to it?

And even if you can speak about foreign policy all day long, ask yourself whether it’s appropriate for your business to purport to do the same. The answer will almost always be no.


Facebook Fail #5: Not Posting Enough

You may be looking at this list of fails and feeling as though you’re succumbing to utter terror. So many fails. How can a small business avoid them all, all the time?

Maybe it’s too dangerous to engage. Maybe it’s best to just not post all that often, maybe just occasionally, just when necessary…?

Hah! Gotcha again. One of the most common fails is not posting enough, especially for small businesses.

There’s really no corporate-level example to share with you because a lack of posting means that you drop out of your fans’ feeds. The punishment is invisibility.

Essentially, if your posts are few, unengaged, and irrelevant, Facebook’s algorithm will assume that they’re not worth making visible. It will literally show your posts to people less often, even Facebook friends.

So yes, your posts will be safe from mockery, but only because they’ll be entirely unseen and therefore entirely ineffective.

Facebook’s reasoning here is that millions of businesses compete for customer attention on Facebook and billions of messages are shared every day. Facebook’s algorithm, which determines what information makes it to individual people’s feeds, cares not for the poetry of your few posts. It cares only about the simplified categories of weight, affinity, and decay (though there are around 100,000 factors that the algorithm considers overall). Weight has to do with engagement, affinity with relevance, and decay is ominously the term associated with newness of content.

These factors are what the Facebook algorithm prioritizes, so you must prioritize them, too. It’s hard to get fail-ier than being invisible to the people you’re trying to connect with, so we need to respect what Facebook’s algorithm finds important.

How to prevent this Facebook fail

The cynic in me says to just go out and post whatever nonsense is necessary to meet Facebook’s quota of posts.

Is this what you want, Facebook?! Source.

But this is a bad attitude. Instead, take heart in the fact that Facebook rewards engagement as much as it punishes reticence. The more engagement (likes, comments, etc.) your posts get, the more Facebook will prioritize them.

A concrete solution is to create a reliable posting schedule. Fill out a calendar with ideas about topics or observations. You can even pre-write your posts in advance if they’re not dependent on being timely. For example, you can have a post covering an industry hero that you can keep in your back pocket for when you need it.

If you’re really into planning or are exceptionally busy, you can also schedule posts to publish at predetermined times using tools like Buffer, Hootsuite, and more. I don’t recommend going too crazy with these, however, given the many dangers and pitfalls of automating your social media presence.

Wups. Source.

You can also learn to embrace the engagement you get. Learn to thrive off of the conversations with fans that follow from your posts and you’ll find that posting becomes easier and more enjoyable. The resulting connections are what Facebook is really designed for. To get the most out of your Facebook presence, you’ll need to get sociable. Just watch out for those other fails as you do.



Some of you might be looking at this list of fails and wondering how bad they could really be. After all, despite these massive mistakes, the brands that made them are still kicking. You might still eat Papa John’s or drink Pepsi, despite their poor Facebook choices.

Bear in mind that Facebook fails are especially dangerous for small businesses because the stakes are higher. If a major corporation manages to alienate even 15% of their target audience, they’ve still got millions of people in the remaining 85% to keep them afloat.

But imagine losing 15% of your target audience for your small business. That clench of fear comes from the fact that smaller audiences make each and every person in them more precious. Alienating 15% of your 200-person Facebook fanbase is disastrous.

So remember that Facebook is a powerful tool. Whether it’s a tool for good or for ill depends on how you use it. Engaging with your customers via Facebook gives you the ability to connect on a meaningful level more effectively than ever before. But it also gives you the ability to offend, sicken, and annoy more effectively, too.

Cracking jokes at inopportune times or being opportunistic about other people’s crises, stepping out of line with comments, or literally yelling at your customers — there are many ways to abuse Facebook’s mighty power.

Stay vigilant and learn from the mistakes that the big companies make. And enjoy some corporate-level schadenfreude while you’re at it. The big guys will be fine.




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