Top 5 Twitter PR Fails of 2012 – Brands, trademarks and reputations on the line

We all know the enormous reach and power social media can create for a brand. It doesn’t take long for 1 tweet or Facebook comment to snowball into a social media nightmare, turning PR and Marketing faces red and tying that inevitable impossible-to-untie knot in your stomach. Not a great feeling for yourself or your brand. So, what went wrong in 2012? Here is a list of the top 5 Twitter PR Fails of 2012.

1.       Chick-fil-a – Stance on gay marriages publicized

Chick-fil-a’s insensitive remarks on gay marriages went viral on many social media channels. Many people were appalled by the comment and went straight to Twitter to fire back by using the hashtags #chick-fil-a and #chickfilgay. In some ways this incident also became political as Mayors of Boston and Chicago urged Chick-fil-a out of their cities. When a company takes a strong stance on a highly controversial issue it is bound to create a storm all over the media and many people turned to social media to get their voices heard.

  • What went wrong?  The Public Relations team at Chick-fil-a lost control of their social media pages and they didn’t have a contingency plan in place or even know how to deal with a social media disaster. While all this was creating big waves in the media they also faced accusations of creating a fake Facebook page with a profile of a teenage girl posting supportive comments. The profile pic of the “teenage girl” was traced back to a stock photo service. This incident didn’t bring down the entire fast food restaurant but these poor choices by the PR team will be preserved on the Internet forever.

2.       McDonalds – hashtag campaign gone wrong

mcdonalds twitterBack in January, McDonald’s launched a Twitter hashtag campaign that backfired on them. Their efforts to promote the brand and engage with their customers through trends like #meetthefarmers and #McDstories resulted in customers using the hashtag to promote their horror stories about McDonalds. Once people started tweeting their negative comments, other jumped the bandwagon and before they could turn it all around their brand sentiment went out of control. “Twitter sentiment registered 68% of the tweets with the McDstories hashtag were negative”[i]

  • What went wrong? McDonalds unintentionally set themselves up for failure. Unfortunately, for McDonalds they chose a hashtag that exposed their brand to negativity. Lesson to be learned from this, when creating hashtag campaigns for your brand think of the ways people may interpret your hashtag, keep it neutral and be sure to think about how you want to promote your brand in a positive way.

3.  Shell Oil targeted by Greenpeace and Yes Labs – Hoax Twitter account went Viral

July 2012, the environmentalist activist group Greenpeace created a parody account @ShellisPrepared posing as their crisis response team to draw attention to a fake Shell website. Greenpeace created an imitation of Shells website by launching their own www.arcticready.com site about drilling in the Arctic by mirroring the legitimate site with subversive anti-Shell messages. This elaborate hoax by Greenpeace went viral on Twitter and other social media channels. Many people who saw the website and Twitter account actually thought it was created by Shell and unfortunately used them as examples of “Social Media gone wrong”.

·         What went wrong?  Haters added more haters to the mix, it didn’t take long for the hashtag #ShellFail to start trending. Did Shell do right by releasing an official statement two weeks after the Arctic Ready site was revealed? For more information about Shells Social Media disaster check out one of our previous blog post, which covered Shell’s “Let’s Go” campaign Hoax extensively.

4. KitchenAid – Anti-Obama Tweet

When it comes to offensive tweets KitchenAid takes gold. After President Obama mentioned his grandmother during the first presidential debate, a member of the KitchenAid Social Media team mistakenly posted:

“Obama gma even knew it was going to be bad, she died 3 days b4 he became president #nbapolitics”

KitchenAid was successful in rapidly taking ownership of the incident and apologizing.

  • What went wrong?  Not much went wrong here but an obvious mistake. KitchenAid had a common communication failure in training the people they hire when it comes to using Social Media. Twitter accounts should not be given to untrained, inexperienced people. KitchenAid claimed that the Tweet was sent out by one of their employees who mistakenly tweeted the message from their corporate account. With that said, a social media policy or guideline could have helped. Should a corporate post only be made using the company computer?

5. American Apparel frustrates storm victims by offering a 20% off for those affected by the storm-“incase they were bored”

People immediately turned to Twitter to criticize the brand. Similarly GAP also sent out a Tweet that angered storm victims even more.

gap twitter

  • What went wrong? Think before you Tweet, NEVER EVER use a natural disaster to promote your brand. Remember, your brands reputation online is core to your business and we all know that anything said on the Internet can spread like wildfire.

There are many lessons to be learned from these social media disasters. Many companies have not grasped the speed and magnitude of customer comments on social media. Remember, 1 tweet can potentially spread to 140 million active Twitter users[ii]. While content is King of the online world, the King also needs to be managed properly. The key to managing your brands trademark, identity and reputation online is monitoring, creating an effective social media policy for internal training and having a contingency plan in place. Be honest; acknowledge the situation and never delete comments from your customers; instead, use their feedback as an opportunity to reinforce a positive brand image.

About Minal Pithia

Minal is an Incident Response Analyst at BrandProtect. Minal works with ISP's, registrars and CERT's on a daily basis to combat phishing and online identity theft quickly and efficiently. She is also a member of the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) and has participated in annual meetings. As a blogger she focuses on phishing trends, identity theft and security. Minal graduated with a BA in Communication Culture and Information Technology from The University of Toronto.

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