Social media networks are great for marketing. They're relatively inexpensive, the user base is quite expansive, and in a general sense all you have to do is show up and participate regularly. Of course, optimizing a social media strategy for maximum effectiveness is a little more complicated than that.

Believe it or not, as easy as it is to use social media it's just as easy -if not more so- to botch the job. While sitting behind a desk, plugging away at a keyboard and staring at a computer display it's hard to imagine that your content will be reaching thousands, maybe millions.

Most social media platforms however, are completely open to the public. That means anyone can view a profile, tweet or social post at any time. With that in mind, it's not difficult to predict the kind of things that can go wrong.

Here are a few social campaign failures that we can all learn from.

1. Woody and His Botched AMA (February, 2012)

Reddit is well known for hosting their ask-me-anything (AMA) sessions with important individuals. The idea is to give the community the chance to talk with someone they otherwise would never be able to, like a prominent game developer, movie star or influential person.

In February, 2012, Woody Harrelson took part in an AMA session with the Reddit community, but it was clear he did not understand the platform. Instead of engaging in active, thoughtful and open discussions he referenced an upcoming movie several times. This led everyone to believe he was only there to market his upcoming film. Since Reddit users are increasingly sensitive to blatant advertising, the situation quickly grew out of hand. Woody Harrelson's problem was that he wasn't familiar with the platform before participating.

Takeaway: Always know the environment when it comes to social media. Every platform is different, and each has their own set of socially acceptable rules. Before jumping headfirst down the rabbit hole, take some time to explore the platforms you're thinking of joining.

2. United Breaks Guitars (Jul, 2009)

David Carroll was a musician who traveled with none other than United. On one of his trips the airline broke his guitar during transport, and despite several attempts to regain compensation the company gave him the cold shoulder. Not only that, according to Carroll his customer service experience was terrible and they took much too long to respond.

Naturally, David wrote a song about the ordeal and it just so happens he decided to post the song as a public video on YouTube. It went viral and gained national coverage. The Times even reported that just four days after the videos release, United's stock dropped about 10% which caused a net decrease of about $180 million.

Takeaway: Despite whether you participate in social media or not, customers will still be tweeting, posting and talking about your business. Obviously, the underlying issue is that you need to focus on providing reasonable customer service, but you also need to remember that you're being watched all the time. As creepy as that sounds, at any moment a customer could post something bad about your brand which could in turn go viral.

3. Red Cross Enjoys Getting Slizzerd (February, 2011)?

Honest mistakes happen, and this was clearly one of them. A social media specialist working for Red Cross at the time, made the error of tweeting from the professional account when he really meant to tweet from his personal account. The tweet said, "Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer. when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd."

What helped the situation is that Red Cross openly admitted to the mistake, instead of trying to hide it or making claims that their account was hacked. You'd be surprised how many companies say such a thing these days. Red Cross later went on to poke fun of the situation, which only helped to bolster the good reputation of the organization.

Takeaway: With such a powerful and publically accessible tool, you should always have some method in place to police the employees managing it. They don't necessarily need you staring over their shoulder, but perhaps restricting access to business accounts is a good idea. More specifically, maybe interns and social media specialists shouldn't be able to access a business account from their personal device?

Other Social Media Blunders

#McDStories In January, 2012, McDonalds tried to launch a Twitter campaign using the hashtag "McDStories". They wanted the trend to include heartwarming tales regarding Happy Meal memories. Instead, Twitter users hijacked the hashtag and talked about poor working conditions, terrible food quality and more. The lesson is that social media teams should always be prepared for the worst, which includes brainstorming a backup plan for when things go awry.

Camry Spam For the 2012 Superbowl, Toyota launched a widescale Twitter marketing campaign focused on their Camry brand. They created a bunch of Camry themed Twitter handles, and then began tweeting directly to users in an effort to boost awareness. Unfortunately, folks took offense and considered the uninspiring tweets to be a form of spam. The lesson here is that no one likes to have ads thrown in their face, so just don't do it.

Keep Cole Out of Cairo In February, 2011, the chairman of Kenneth Cole used humor and current events in a ridiculous Twitter mashup. The result was, well let's just say it was not good. The tweet said, "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at

[link] KC." Obviously the world of Twitter did not respond in kind and eventually those involved were forced to issue a public apology. Be careful what you post and be sensitive making comments regarding social events. It's best to just avoid them altogether, because they're a train wreck waiting to happen.

Social Media Can Be Dangerous

The ultimate takeaway from these social media fails, is that while social media may be a great marketing tool, it can also be dangerous when it comes to generating a positive reputation for your business or brand. That's not to say you should be afraid of using social media. Just be aware of social blunders that have happened in the past, and do your best to maintain cautionary use of the platform. To be perfectly honest, a lot of the issues mentioned above could have been easily avoided. Keep that in mind.