3 Unforgettable Social Media PR Disasters (And How to Avoid Them)

In this article, I’d like to cover a few PR disasters that were made possible by social media. In fact, it’s fair to say that each case has taught us what NOT to do online.

LifeLock’s CEO Challenges People To Steal His Identity

Lifelock promised in ads that its $10 monthly service would protect consumers from identity theft. The company also offered a $1 million guarantee to compensate customers for losses incurred if they became a victim after signing up for the service. To showcase his confidence in his service, LifeLock’s CEO Todd Davis LifeLock’s CEO gave out his social security number on social media ads and challenged people to steal his identity. Guess what happened, 13 times in a row? While Todd Davis said that this proved LifeLock worked since identity thieves were only successful 13 times, the FTC disagreed and fined the company $12 million for deceptive advertising in March 2010.

LifeLock Ad Campaign

Tip: This tip is obvious, and it should have been obvious to Todd too. NEVER publish sensitive information like Social Security Numbers, Passport Number, Bank Account Number and Credit Card Numbers on Social Media.

Malaysia Airlines Offers Free Tickets To Flyers Who Submit Their “Bucket Lists”

In 2014, Malaysia Airlines was reeling from the twin tragedies of losing flights MH17 and MH30. A month later they launched an online competition in Australia and New Zealand inviting users to share their bucket lists in hopes of winning free tickets and iPads. Contestants had to explain “What and where would you like to tick off on your bucket list?” Now, Urban Dictionary defines a Bucket List “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” The Internet wasted no time in denouncing the campaign as insensitive considering that the airline was responsible for the deaths of 537 people.


Tip: While it’s obvious that the campaign should never have run, Malaysia Airlines response to the fiasco was appropriate. They withdrew the campaign immediately and publicly apologized for running it. On social media, as in real life, saying sorry is often a great solution.


#MyNYPD was a PR stunt by the New York Police Department to try to show the people of New York that cops are mostly good people out to protect and serve. Thing is, they asked people to use the hashtag #MyNYPD to tell their stories or post their pictures of positive encounters they might have had with the police. Of course, people used it to post pictures depicting police brutality as well as other negative headlines the NYPD has made over the years (e.g. NYPD kills man on wedding day, beats an 84 year old man bloody for jaywalking, etc.) Twitter has rarely seen anything go that sour or that fast before. But I mean, what on earth did they think was going to happen? Who exactly did they think uses hashtags AND has nothing but rave reviews for the police nowadays?



Tip: On social media in general and on Twitter in particular, negativity and shock news spreads 10 times as fast as positivity. If there’s even a 20% chance that your PR campaign can be viewed negatively, it’s a good idea to just cancel it and think of something else.