Twitter #Fails: Lessons in PR from Social Media Disasters

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Twitter is a powerful tool for brands and individuals with a message and a means to get it to their audience. Brands on Twitter have fallen victim to blunders where the person in charge hastily posts an inappropriate thought for a large audience to read. The tweeter may have been using a forum like TweetDeck or Hootsuite where they have multiple Twitter accounts connected to and the tweet was meant for their personal account, but they ended up over-sharing to their corporate audience. After suffering a Twitter disaster, some brands assume responsibility for the controversy while others put the blame on interns or agencies from outside the company that were hired.

Here you’ll find a list of some of the worst (and best) Twitter PR fails from 2011. The offenders include automakers, fashion designers and more.

Twitter Fail #1: Tweeting from the wrong handle…case #1 (American Red Cross)

This is my favorite “fail.”

The tweet:

“Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd”

The response:

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated keys.”

And the saboteur tweeted “Rogue tweet from @RedCross due to my inability to use hootsuite…I wasn’t actually #gettingslizzard but just excited! #nowembarassing”

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery asked fans to donate to the Red Cross and used more humor for the fundraiser pitch. “Please join Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in raising money for the American Red Cross. If you’re interested in donating a pint, please click here to learn more about Red Cross blood drives. Note: Alcohol can often make you more dehydrated. Dogfish Head recommends not drinking immediately before or after donating!”

PR Lesson takeaway: Show grace under pressure. Red Cross did not fire the employee responsible for the rogue tweet. Instead they used humor to apologize to their followers and acknowledged that a human error was made. The way Red Cross handled themselves is admirable. They managed to take what could have been a PR disaster, and turned it into a brilliant fundraising opportunity lead by DogFish Head Craft Brewery.

Twitter fail #2: Hashtag usage gone wrong (Entennmann’s )

The tweet:

 “Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”

The response: The company realized it’s mistake, deleted the tweet and followed up with an apology.

“Sorry everyone, we weren’t trying to reference the trial in our tweet! We should have checked the trending hashtag first” and added “Our #notguilty tweet was insensitive, albeit completely unintentional. We are sincerely sorry.”

PR Lesson Takeaway: Research, research, research!! Before you decide to use a hashtag, research it. (Remember this from our 5 Twitter Mistakes to Avoid post?) Before you join in on the conversation, be sure you know what everyone’s talking about. And practice some sensitivity and common sense. Entennmann’s tried to bring humor to feeling not guilty for eating treats. Which, as a woman who is a foodie and loves her treats, I can relate to this. But they tweeted this the day the verdict of the Casey Anthony trial was broadcast and the #notguilty hashtag was trending.

Twitter Fail #3: Making light of a serious situation (Kenneth Cole)

The fashion designer tried to leverage the uprising in Egypt to market his spring collection of clothes.

The tweet:

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC”

The response: He deleted the tweet and apologized on his Facebook page.

“I have spent a considerable amount of time reading your comments, and value your insights and feedback. I want to reiterate that my use of levity with regard to this momentous event was extremely inappropriate. My thoughts are with the courageous people of Egypt. -KC”

PR Lesson Takeaway: It’s hard to combine humor and sensitivity into a marketing message in 140 characters or less. The tone of your message may not get through or it may be misinterpreted. All employees, including executives, should trained in the basics of good and bad social media communications, as they are potential spokesmen for your brand.

Twitter Fail #4: Tweeting from the wrong handle…case #2 (Chrysler Autos)

The Tweet:

“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f****** drive”

The Response:

“Our apologies – our account was compromised earlier today. We are taking steps to resolve it.”

Chrysler also posted a statement on their blog that an employee at New Media Strategies, Chrysler’s social media agency, had posted the tweet. They terminated the employee and did not renew their contract with NMS.

PR Lesson Takeaway: Train your own employee team to tweet on your behalf instead of hiring an outside agency. If you do decide to use an outside agency, make sure they are trained and aware of the social media guidelines and policies your brand has. You also should create safeguards such as having an approval process in place for all posts. It may be a pain, but it could help prevent a blunder such as the one Chrysler faced.

Twitter Fail #5: Locked Twitter account (CVS_Cares)

There wasn’t a tweet that was sent out, but the CVS_Cares Twitter handle that was established was locked private for a number of weeks. CVS Pharmacy asked customers to send messages, suggestions and feedback to this handle, but it required people to request to follow.

PR Lesson Takeaway: A locked Twitter stream for a community manager is an oxymoron. The purpose of having a corporate Twitter handle is to listen to and respond to your audience. Make sure to test all social media platforms and properties before launching a marketing campaign around it.

Twitter fails are embarrassing, and can turn into disasters, but you can learn from your mistakes as well as others, (because face it, we are all going to make mistakes) and take measures to prevent them.

More PR Lessons Twitter fails can teach us:

  • Select your account administrators carefully. A professional, responsible manager should be in charge of all communication on the various social media networks and should be well versed on the risks of social media.
  • Stay attentive and involved in all conversations about your brand.
  • Avoid the allure of convenience.
  • Recognize that mistakes will happen and have a plan in place to deal with blunders that arise. We are all human and make mistakes.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Your audience wants to see the human side of your brand.
  • Have a social media policy and make sure employees and outside agencies hired are aware of it.
  • Be authentic and transparent.
  • Respond quickly and directly.
  • Plan for the worst while expecting the best
  • It’s only a fail if you refuse to learn from it.
  • The real failures happen every day. They’re the campaigns you never hear about, and we never talk about.

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