2011's most disastrous social media blunders

2011 demonstrated both the strength and the weakness of social media marketing.

The strength is that anyone can do it.

The weakness is that anyone does, regardless of whether they know the least bit about marketing. And when they do, the results are often disastrous, as Advertising Age‘s just-released list of the year’s biggest social-media marketing blunders demonstrates:

Anthony Weiner: Maybe he shouldn’t be on this list. His tweets were not about marketing, but packaging.

Chrysler: The auto maker rolls out a new national campaign, “Imported from Detroit,” on the Super Bowl. Then some low-level jerk at New Media Strategies, Chrysler’s online agency, tweets — not on his personal acount, but on @ChryslerAutos — “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive.” (We won’t spell out the f-word gerund here, but he did in his tweet.) Result: agency fires employee, Chrysler fires agency.

Kenneth Cole: Reacts to February’s Tahrir Square uprising by tweeting, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is available online.” How do you say “putting your shoe in your mouth” in Arabic?

AFLAC: Spokesduck voice Gilbert Gottfried posts tsunami jokes on his Twitter account. The Japanese are not amused. Neither is AFLAC, 75% of whose 2010 revenues cam from Japan. Gottfried’s voice-over gig becomes a dead duck.

Netflix: In September, the company announces a plan gto split off DVD rentals as a separate, extra-cost service called Qwikster. It turns out they can’t get a Twitter acount for it because the guy who already owns @Qwikster doesn’t want to sell it. But that’s the least of their problems, as 800,000 subscribers cut back or entirely quit their Netflix service by the time the company kills Qwikster three weeks later.

QANTAS: After a bitter October labor dispute that grounded its entire fleet and stranded passengers worldwide, the Australian airline launches a November “describe your dream luxury in-flight experience” online promotion. #QantasLuxury gets thousand of tweets, of which, “Planes that arrive intact and on time” was one of the most pleasant.

GoDaddy: America’s biggest web host has never exactly been plagued with an excess of good taste, but CEO Bob Parsons went too far, even for them, when he tweeted links to video of him shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe. PETA organized a boycott, and competitiors jumped on the bandwagon, offering discount rates and donations to elephant charities to site owners to switch.

Miami Heat: Ignoring a specific NBA ban on public comment on the lockout, owner Micky Arison retweets lockout-related posts and gets into online arguments with followers. In November, the NBA fines him $500,000.

Ragu: First they create an online video campaign in which wives talk about how clueless rtheir husbands are in the kitchen. Then, to generate buzz, they send it to prominent dad bloggers on Twitter. They get buzz, all right, but not the kind they wanted. There’s a backlash of posts by prominent dad bloggers about the brand being anti-fatherhood.

Ashton Kutscher: Not knowing that the Penn State scandal involved child abuse, the actor takes to his @aplusk account to tweet 8.5 million followers, “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #no class as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” After a firestorm of response, Kutscher apologizes online and says he’s turning over management of his Twitter account to his professional PR team.

In 2012, don’t wait to be burned before you follow that example.