What were they thinking? 5 social media PR disasters

Last week, beleaguered Australian airline Qantas posted a tweet asking customers to tell the company what their idea of 'Qantas luxury' was. The Qantas brand hasn't had the best reputation lately, and as consumer frustration boiled over, the #qantasluxury hashtag was hijacked. It's not the only time a company has made a serious social media mistake - we take a look at five of the worst.

Last week, beleaguered Australian airline Qantas posted a tweet asking customers to tell the company what their idea of 'Qantas luxury' was. The Qantas brand hasn't had the best reputation lately and as consumer frustration boiled over, the #qantasluxury hashtag was hijacked. It resulted in a deluge of negative comments about the airline. But that's not the only time a business has made a serious social media mistake - we take a look at five of the worst.

Go Daddy CEO kills an elephant, tweets about it

Earlier this year the chief executive of domain registration company Go Daddy, Bob Parsons, made the mistake of boasting about killing an elephant. Actually, he didn't just brag about it, but posted video of the hunt, too. Granted, the elephant wasn't endangered - Zimbabwe had been culling its elephant population, which it believed in 2009 had reached more then 100,000 (a number disputed by conservation groups). But while Parsons' hunt may not be frowned upon in the African country, it wasn't looked upon too kindly in the Western world.

Animal rights group PETA petitioned people to change their website registrations to other companies, and an opportunistic competitor called NameCheap offered to donate 20% of the cost of changing to savetheelephants.org. NameCheap raised over US$20,000 for the organisation - and announced the donation on Twitter, of course.

Social media users react to BP oil spill

It's safe to say that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year was a PR disaster for petrol company BP. What makes a PR disaster, already widely reported in the news, worse? Social networks.

On Facebook, a number of groups and events sprang up asking people to boycott BP, at least until the oil spill had been cleared up. Millions of people committed to the boycotts, and one group, simply named Boycott BP, had nearly a million 'likes' on its own. The administrators of the page still regularly post negative news articles about BP and the effect of oil spills on the environment.

But the more hilarious damage was done on Twitter, where an account named BPGlobalPR sprung up and began tweeting satirical messages about the spill and the clean up. The account still has nearly 162,000 followers.

Durex South Africa makes sexist joke, it doesn't go well for them

Okay, so you don't expect a whole lot of maturity from a company that makes condoms, sure. But the official South African Twitter account, DurexSA, last week posted a tweet that said, "Why did God give men penises? So they'd have at least one way to shut a woman up."

No one will be shocked to hear that a tweet like that one, in a country that has a serious problem with sexual assault and rape, didn't get many positive reactions. And when people got outraged and called for a boycott, the same Twitter account posted a barely-literate tweet defending the bad judgement call.

"We have posted many jokes, see our timeline… And they not violent against woman! Re-read it!!!!!"

The company was forced to remove the offending tweets and apologise - the company apologised three times on Twitter alone - and the whole mess was created and resolved in a day. Well, except for the company's South African revenue, which may take a while longer to recover.

#QantasLuxury gets hijacked by angry customers

On 22 November, Qantas posted this giveaway on their @QantasAirways Twitter account:

There hasn't been a whole lot of goodwill for Qantas over the past couple of months, thanks to the company grounding all flights, both nationally and internationally, during a union members' strike in October. In June, the company had grounded its fleet due to an ash cloud caused by a volcanic eruption in Chile, even though Air New Zealand deemed similar flights safe and continued to fly.

But grounded planes was only the tip of the iceberg, as the company discovered when angry customers hijacked the airline's hashtag and posted thousands upon thousands of complaints.

"#QantasLuxury is feeding a family of 5 on the pittance they pay their ground staff while Alan Joyce is on $94k a week," tweeted 2FBS.

"Free PJs provided, because the only flying you'll be doing is in your dreams #qantasluxury," said nicolefouz.

Others tweeted about their baggage handling woes, the quality of food, or the attitudes of the flight attendants.

Once the siege was well underway, Qantas tweeted, "At this rate our #QantasLuxury competition is going to take years to judge."

Yeah, no kidding.

Congressman Anthony Weiner can't keep his weiner to himself

While #qantasluxury was an unmitigated PR disaster, it pales in comparison to the mind-boggling lack of tech savvy that US democratic congressman Anthony Weiner displayed when he publicly tweeted a picture of his erect penis. The tweet was aimed at 21-year-old college student Gennette Cordova, and the picture was hosted on an image hosting service designed for sharing images on Twitter, yfrog. The tweet and image were quickly deleted, but not before screenshots were taken.

At first, Weiner attempted to deny that he'd posted the picture, and instead blamed photo doctoring and hackers. Unfortunately for Weiner, conservatives had been documenting his interactions with women on Twitter, and even created false accounts to lure him into saying lurid things.

Eventually, Weiner was forced to hold a press conference to admit that he'd been a bad, bad boy after a second woman came forward with a shirtless picture of him. The woman, Meagan Broussard, said she had more images, some of which were graphic.

In the New York Post's full transcript of the conference, Weiner said he had engaged in "several" inappropriate conversations and exchanged explicit messages and images with "about six" women over three years. His wife must have been thrilled.

Unsurprisingly, Weiner announced his resignation shortly after the ordeal became public, forcing a special election. More surprisingly, while his reputation is in tatters, his marriage remains intact.

Have a brand? You probably don't want this to happen to you. Fortunately, Mashable has great guide on how to respond when social media attacks your brand.

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Siobhan Keogh

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