Five Scary Social Media Horror Stories

Here's how to drive a stake through social media nightmares

Whether its on Yelp, Amazon, or anywhere else that potential clients see your business, a negative review can have scary consequences. Its also a dirty trick that competitors can use to slag your company; all they need is to set up a personal account on a site that looks like it's from a regular customer and bingo, your reputation is toast.

Luckily we have a guide for dealing with Yelp disasters, and you can apply many of those lessons to other sites as well. My favorite technique for managing an online reputation is to cultivate testimonials. If a customer tells you they're happy with your work or product, ask if they're willing to pen a testimonial on a review site. Send people links to where they can add a positive review so they dont have to dig.

You can even include requests for reviews in email blasts and other communications that you regularly send out. After all, unhappy clients generally dont stay on newsletter lists. Follow-up emails after a product purchase are always a good idea; from there, you can include a link to a review site.

1. Unhappy Customer Websites

Nearly anyone has the capacity to put up a website. If your business has grievously wronged someone, chances are good that they will seek their revenge with a site like

You can deal with this well--as Sears did by offering a sincere apology and a refund for the freezer delivered on the truck that killed a family pet. If, however, you litigate every time a customer publishes a complaint website, you're an example of how to compound the problem. There are many channels online for someone to complain, and a lawsuit will just make an angry customer go over the edge.

2. Unfair Competitive Comparisons

In the United States, it's illegal for a competitor to jump up and down on your product, break it, and call it poorly manufactured. True story: I worked at a company this happened to. One of our competitors posted a video of our product being jumped up and down upon until it split in half.

We thought this may push the boundaries of being legal, and according to expensive lawyers, we were right. Turns out a competitive comparison can be very problematic in the legal world, and you have a good case against a company defaming your product, especially if they're using trademarked terms. If you have the same sort of situation going down, have your lawyer draft a letter to your competitor and their ISP citing the infringement.

3. Daily Deal Downers

Groupon and its spinoffs are fabulous for consumers getting the deals. Yet, there are a number of pitfalls for businesses offering deals on daily deal sites; see our guide on how to avoid them. As a consumer, youre pretty much protected if there's an issue with a deal. I received a refund from Groupon as soon as it learned that one of the companies Id bought a deal from went out of business. The first I heard of it was Groupons email notifying me of my refund. If you're with a business, structure your deal carefully so that you're either aware that youre losing money for marketing purposes, or not losing money at all.

4. The Death of Your Job and Reputation

Hopefully, we all know to lock down our Facebook privacy settings, don't let our employers see what we write there, and dont say stupid things on Twitter. Nearly everyone routinely ignores all these things, as a quick search of the Internet will show.

One group that yo'dd think would have this sewn up would be tech writers. While we're not flawless, we dont usually take to Twitter to bash people--usually.

That's unless youre talking about this tech reporter from a Canadian newspaper--then you do that stuff all day. Specifically, you use Twitter to publicly curse out a PR person who didnt call you back. If I did that to every PR person who didn't reply immediately, my Twitter account would be a steady stream of expletives. Not surprisingly, the reporter in question left the paper to work in Abu Dhabi. Having to translate your swearing does give you a moment to think twice before tweeting.

5. Poorly Executed Social Media Plans

If your company is going through the trouble of setting up social media profiles, use them well. Dont just push out boring press releases or pat yourselves on the backs for hiring yet another executive. Talk to your prospective customers, ask and answer their questions, and use the tools to become a better business. The only time wasted on social media is time spent using it poorly.

Target is a good example. While its employees are trying to answer customer concerns on its Twitter account, the sheer volume of customer concerns are troubling to the casual observer. I would direct-message any customer communications that include private data such as reference numbers rather than broadcasting them on a public Twitter account. In this case, Target doesn't push out enough engaging content to balance out the customer service concerns. With the sheer volume of products it sells, this should be easy to rectify. Many companies have separate customer service Twitter accounts, which helps to divert such queries while still dealing with them in a timely manner.

What social media nightmares have you had to deal with? Sound off in the comments below.

Angela West dreams of opening a Fallout-themed pub featuring wait staff with Pip-Boys. She's written for big insurance companies, small wildlife control businesses, gourmet food chains, and more. Follow her on Twitter at @angelawest and Facebook at

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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