Think Halloween is scary? Try owning a business in this economy. Worse, yet, try owning a business in a world where one misstep will be broadcast via social media before you even know what's gone wrong. For many small business owners, it's a crazy time to run a business. But, don't feel bad, the big guys don't always get it right either. Here are the 10 "scariest" business blunders of 2011.
Yahoo Fires CEO by Phone
File under "bad HR skills." When Yahoo Inc. fired its CEO, Carol Bartz, by phone earlier this year, it sent the blogosphere, Twitterverse and Web world into an apoplectic frenzy. Never mind that bosses do worse all the time. The final outcome was that the execs at Yahoo looked like, well, a bunch of yahoos.
Bank of America's Website (and Stock Price) Down Again
After watching its stock price free-fall throughout the summer over concerns about its exposure to mortgage-related losses, Bank of America took another PR hit when it announced it would charge a $5 monthly fee for customers who made purchases with their Bank of America debit cards. As if the backlash to that wasn't enough, the company saw its website go down for a long weekend in October. The bank said it was the result of peak traffic slowing the site. It was not exactly a confidence-restoring episode for a company that announced in September it would cut 3,000 jobs as part of a restructuring.
HP TouchPad's Premature Birth…and Death
When Hewlett Packard launched its much-ballyhooed TouchPad on July 1, the buzz was that the HP folks had finally come up with a potential iPad slayer. But even its vaunted WebOS operating system, which HP paid gazillions for when it purchased Palm, was not enough to pull HP's fat out of the fire. The launch proved to be premature as critics felt the devices were overpriced and underpowered. And consumer response was equally underwhelming. After slashing $100 from the price in response to the dismal demand, HP finally pulled the plug, took the TouchPad off life support and slashed the price to $99. It sold out overnight. HP had second thoughts and ordered a second production run, which has yet to hit stores. After much dithering about the fate of its PC division, HP has decided to keep that part running. The fate of WebOS, though, is still in limbo.
BlackBerry Experiences Worldwide Outages
Many a businessperson was already wondering whether it was time to make the switch to an iPhone before Research In Motion experienced devastating worldwide BlackBerry outages in October. This came after RIM’s stock has fallen 59.8 percent this year to $23.12, as the company faces an onslaught of competition as the smartphone market broadens, according to LaptopMag.com. It didn't help matters that the outage came just days before Apple started selling its iPhone 4S, which had customers lining up in the streets.
Sony PlayStation Data Gets Hacked
And you thought your kids' video game addiction was the scariest thing Sony PlayStation was responsible for. In April, however, the company admitted that the data and personal information of 77 million of its customers had been accessed by unauthorized outsiders. The story only got weirder when it was revealed that it was gamers who used unauthorized firmware on their PlayStation 3s. The security breach has resulted in lost customers and lawsuits for Sony, with estimates that it will cost the company billions of dollars and could spell "Game Over" for consumers' confidence in the company.
Taco Bell Defends its Mystery Meat
Taco Bell got an unexpected New Year's surprise when an Alabama law firm filed a class-action suit in January claiming that only 36 percent of the fast-food chain's "seasoned ground beef" was actually meat. The rest, the lawsuit claimed, was made up of ingredients including "isolated oat product," wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, and on and on. Taco Bell quickly responded by declaring all-out war on the company that filed the suit and mounting a major advertising and PR campaign. In April, the law firm withdrew its lawsuit and Taco Bell declared victory. Still, the PR damage was done. It's safe to say that at least a few customers will be looking a little more closely at their burritos on their next visit to the Bell.
Family Radio Gets It Wrong, Again
With 66 U.S. radio stations, Family Radio is no rinky-dink operation. When its owner, Harold Camping, predicted the world would come to an end May 21, many listeners believed it. Then doomsday came and went, and Camping, after a period of silence, rescheduled the end of the world for Oct. 21. That day, too, seems to have been a miscalculation. Camping is still on the air and Family Radio carries on, proving that the Lord does, indeed, work in mysterious ways.
Target Fashions an E-Commerce Disaster
When Target debuted its long-awaited 400-piece, lower-priced line from Italian knitwear designer Missoni, demand quickly outpaced supply. Store shelves were picked clean in minutes, and the Target website crashed as a result of the massive flood of orders. Worse, customers who thought they'd successfully made a purchase received cancellation emails hours or even days later. While some of the limited-edition Missoni products are still in stock, most are gone forever. Target said little about the episode except that interest in the product was even greater than the company expected. In the end, though, it seems unlikely that Target will lose many customers over the incident. They'll just get up earlier to shop next time.
Facebook Rolls Out Some Digital Heartache
When Facebook rolled out changes to the look and layout of its users' profiles and its news feed feature in September, the response was less than enthusiastic. Those who had come to rely on Facebook as a major component of their social media activity weren't quite ready for the radical redesign. The changes followed a year of complaints about Facebook privacy settings and the company's decision to allow third-party apps to access Facebook users' data. Still, Facebook seems to have survived yet another misstep relatively unscathed. In fact, recent research reveals Facebook is now more popular than daytime TV .
You already know the story, so here's the one-paragraph recap. Netflix split its company into two divisions, changed its plan offerings and raised prices, all while employing perhaps the least-effective corporate communication strategy (as in, no strategy) even conceived. The company, of course, backpedaled, rethought it, changed its plan, miscommunicated some more and, ultimately, issued a video apology from its CEO. The company announced in October that it has lost more than 800,000 customers since the pricing and plan changes began. Netflix's market value has declined from $15.7 billion in July to $4.06 billion, according to Bloomberg. Whether Netflix will recover or go the way of the VHS tape remains to be seen.