What SMEs can learn from social media meltdowns

Posted on Sep 14th, 2015 | Running a business

We’ve never been more connected. Thanks to social media, businesses are in a better position than ever to spread the word about their goods or services.

Twitter and Facebook, the two industry leaders, provide an easy, effective way for you to get to know your audience – and vice versa – but just because they are simple to use doesn’t mean they should be taken lightly. Even a slight oversight can turn your brand into a viral laughing-stock.

Here are five examples of social media management going very, very wrong, and what we can learn from the mistakes of others.

England football team

Putting their pitiful male counterparts to shame, the England women’s football team inspired the nation by finishing third in this years’ World Cup. But so soon after the profile of the women’s game had been raised so valiantly, the team’s return home was somewhat mired by this questionably worded tweet from the FA-run official team account:


Critics deemed the message to be patronising and sexist, arguing that the men’s team wouldn’t ever be belittled in such a way. Despite the tweet being deleted rapidly, the backlash raged on:

Sexist Tweet

In a statement, the FA responded, “The full story was a wider homecoming feature attempting to reflect the many personal stories within the playing squad as has been told throughout the course of the tournament.

However, we understand that an element of the story appears to have been taken out of context and the opening paragraph was subsequently revised to reflect that fact.”

James Callow, the author of the article being linked to in the tweet, wrote:

The piece is intended to sum up a nice moment when players are reunited with their families. Human interest is a big part of any sports reporting. I’d have done the same for England men, absolutely.”

What can we learn:

Trying to condense a message into 140 characters can be quite a tricky task, and in focusing so hard on keeping to the word count, it’s easy to lose sight of the tone of your post.

Always be sure you aren’t shooting yourself in the foot with the way you present your content, or a fairly innocuous, well-meaning sentiment can (quite understandably) be received negatively.

Susan Boyle

Whoever was running Susan Boyle’s Twitter page in this fateful day in November 2012 was left with a red face, following another controversial choice of words.

The 2009 Britain’s Got Talent contestant and two-time Grammy nominee(!) was set to release her new album ‘Standing Ovation: The Greatest Songs from the Stage’, and her PR team set up a live Q&A session to promote it.

Unfortunately, Susan and her team were on the… err… receiving end of an online frenzy when users saw the accidental double entendre in the hashtag #susanalbumparty.


The adage that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ is not always true, but in fairness, there weren’t many people using social media that day who didn’t know Susan Boyle had a new album coming out. A genuine oversight – or perhaps the dark arts of PR were at play?

Twitter user @pjstead posted, “The official twitter hashtag for Susan Boyle’s new release is #susanalbumparty. Her social media team are either very naive or geniuses.”

The jury is out on that one.

What can we learn:

ALWAYS proof read out loud. Then get someone else to proof read. Then proof read it again.


Virgin Megastore, MVC, and Tower Records had all fallen to HMV within the last decade, but in 2013 the entertainment retail giant hit a major spot of financial bother and subsequently cut 190 jobs across the country.

Unfortunately for them, one of the aggrieved workers still had access to the company Twitter page.


The live-blogging of the sackings was broadcast to the company’s 61,500 followers, and of course it didn’t take long for word to spread beyond that, hitting mainstream media channels.

Once the company had cottoned on and deleted the posts, they tweeted: “One of our departing colleagues was understandably upset. We’re still here thou, thx for supporting hmv thro these challenging times”.

What can we learn:

Make sure you’re on top of who has access to your social media logins – a dodgy break-up could spell disaster if you don’t take appropriate precautions. Changing the password before embarking on the “mass execution” could have stopped the employee (later identified as Poppy Rose Cleere) from being able to go on this tirade.


In an attempt to collect a catalogue of compliments and spread brand awareness across Twitter, the digital marketing team at Waitrose encouraged users to finish the sentence “I shop at Waitrose because..”, using the hashtag #waitrosereasons.

Testimonials go a long way, and if people see others describing excellent customer service or a wide selection of organic food, they may be more inclined to drop into their local store. At least, one would imagine, this was the mentality behind the campaign.

Somewhere along the way, however, things took a rather sarcastic turn. Responses started popping up with a somewhat different slant to them, such as:

I shop at Waitrose because it makes me feel important and I absolutely detest being surrounded by poor people.

I shop at Waitrose because Clarrisa’s pony just WILL NOT eat ASDA Value straw.

I shop at Waitrose but re-pack it in Tesco bags so the rest of the estate doesn’t know I won the Euromillions.

“I shop at Waitrose because I think food must automatically be better if it costs three times as much.”

Waitrose, to their credit, recovered pretty well and accepted the reaction with grace:


INS News Agency Ltd..19/09/2012 The marketing department of John Lewis and Waitrose were not expecting the derisory comments about the supermarket chain when they asked twitters "I love to shop at waitrose because........." See copy INSwait


What can we learn:

Creating a hashtag can be a great way to increase conversation about a topic – but be aware of the risks involved. If you’re perceived as actively asking people to feed your ego, the Twittersphere can (and probably will) take the opportunity to have a laugh at your expense.

It has been argued quite convincingly that whilst this wasn’t the reaction the company was looking for, they actually ended up benefiting from it. All the joking about the store’s poshness (many believe) actually reinforced their positioning as a high-end brand.

Also to Waitrose’s credit, their reaction showed a degree of humility, one that this next bunch would have severely benefited from…


Amy’s Baking Company

At least the transgressions of these large businesses, whilst shameful, have not led to any of them going under. That’s why we saved the best (worst?) until last.

The case of Amy’s Baking Company is the absolute pinnacle of how not to run a social network channel if you’re an SME, or anyone else for that matter.

This particular meltdown took place following an erratic appearance on reality show Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares. The bistro staff had been depicted on the show as irrational, impatient and rude, to the point where even the insufferable celebrity chef decided he couldn’t put up with them any longer. Ramsey gave up on his ritual restaurant rehabilitation for the first time in the show’s history.

The depiction of the company on the show was so overwhelmingly negative, that after it aired, the company received a torrent of online abuse. But as if the situation wasn’t bad enough as it was, the social media response was nothing short of catastrophic.

Owners Amy and Samy responded by banning Facebook users from the page who posted negative comments, which provoked a further backlash not only on Facebook, but also on Yelp and Reddit.

At the height of the abuse, they decided to fight back:





The controversial couple later claimed that the alleged ‘meltdown’ was actually the result of their Facebook, Twitter and Yelp accounts (as well as their website) being hacked, and denied having anything to do with the ‘horrible’ messages.

Astoundingly, the company managed to cling on for two years following the controversy, but closed in July of this year, citing ‘issues with the landlord’. Perhaps it was these fetching T-shirts that kept the place afloat in the meantime.

What can we learn:

As kids are told at school, if you don’t react to people making fun of you, they’ll probably get bored and move onto something else. Don’t feed the trolls, and absolutely never post your response in all capitals – it makes you look deranged.

Finally, if you’re going to respond to criticism, always take some time to calm down before you post something you’ll regret later. After all, when even the big guy upstairs weighs in to criticise your digital marketing, you know you’ve made a pig’s ear of things.




Join Crunch Chorus:
The free community for the self-employed

You'll get access to a range of benefits, such as invoice software, jargon-free business guides, great networking opportunities, discounts, plus much more

Written by Tom West

Useful tools and resources

Business guides

From understanding expenses to starting a limited company, we've a range of jargon-free business guides for you to download and keep.

Invoicing software and templates

Create, send and store sole trader invoices in a snap with our free invoice software. You can also download a selection of invoice templates for all business types.

Take-home pay calculator

Use our Take-Home Pay Calculator to work out your true earnings and see if you could save money with a different company set up.