A quick guide to avoiding common mistakes on Twitter.
Twitter is like a microphone attached to every TV and radio station broadcast antenna in the world…and the world is listening and watching every second. As soon as you tweet something, the world (140 million daily users) can read it, forward it and respond to it. Even if you delete the tweet afterward, it’s already out there. So if you’ve tweeted something you shouldn’t have, the damage will be done. Just as in press interviews, “nothing is off the record.”
With this in mind, we’d like to offer some examples of epic failures to tweet responsibly by some celebrities, major brands, a congressman and even Olympic hopefuls, and some common sense tips to keep your brand safe on Twitter.
Epic Fail Examples
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried
Gottfried, who served as spokesperson and the voice of the Aflac (insurance) duck for many years, found himself out of a job after making jokes about the disaster in Japan immediately after the 2011 tsunami. This damaged both his brand and that of Aflac, which does a lot of business in Japan. Aflac immediately fired him.
Actor Ashton Kutcher
Apparently Kutcher hadn’t yet heard WHY Penn State had just fired legendary coach Joe Paterno (in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal) when he tweeted, “How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste.” This made him look careless at best and hugely insensitive at worst. It didn’t help that Kutcher and his ex-wife Demi Moore had previously launched The Demi & Ashton Foundation (DNA) to end child sex trafficking and child pornography, a remarkable irony.
Be careful who you hire to manage your social media outreach. A blogger for New Media Strategies, Chrysler’s social media agency, tweeted the following: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to (expletive) drive.” Problem was, while he thought he was posting to his own personal Twitter feed, he had mistakenly posted his tweet to the Chrysler Twitter feed. This caused a backlash, and Chrysler fired New Media Strategies.
Already controversial for its portrayal of women in its advertising, Go Daddy crossed the line for a lot of people when CEO Bob Parsons, a hunting enthusiast, posted pictures to Twitter of himself standing next to the elephant he had just killed in Zimbabwe. This didn’t go over well.
You’d think they’d have known better. During the thick of the Egyptian uprising that led to the toppling of the current form of government in pursuit of democracy, Kenneth Cole tried to capitalize on this news with this promotional tweet: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at http://bit.ly./KCairo – KC” The response was angry and immediate. One person posted in reply, “@KennethCole Totally poor taste. People are dying in the streets and you want to advertise your fashions? #boycottKennethCole.” This prompted Kenneth Cole to apologize with “Re Egypt tweet: we weren’t intending to make light of a serious situation. We understand the sensitivity of this historic moment. – KC” But, the damage to the brand was done.
In October 2011, amidst faltering labor relations, Qantas grounded its entire fleet for a weekend, cancelling hundreds of flights and stranding passengers around the world. In November, labor talks broke down. In a misguided attempt to try to repair relations with customers, Qantas ran a contest on Twitter using the #QantasLuxury hashtag (#), offering the prize of a luxury Qantas gift pack including a set of flying kangaroo pajamas, for the best tweets describing a “dream luxury in-flight experience.” Unfortunately, Qantas started the contest one day after labor talks broke down, which turned out to be really bad timing. Some of the responses from angry customers and analysts included, “Qantas Luxury means sipping champagne on your corporate jet while grounding the entire airline, country, customers & staff,” “Qantas Luxury is getting my flight refund back after waiting almost a month,” Qantas Luxury “…means more than 3mins notice that the whole airline is on strike,” and “Epic PR fail, excellent case study in corporate cultural tone deafness. Simply don’t get it.” Qantas’ response? To tweet, “At this rate our #QantasLuxury competition is going to take years to judge.” This may be the clearest example of a company that is clearly out of touch with its customers – and perhaps reality itself.
Congressman Anthony Weiner
It is now well known that the fallen former congressman from New York conducted online relationships with multiple women via Twitter, some of them after he became married. What apparently got him caught was a mistake that is very easy to make: publicly posting a tweet instead of privately direct-messaging someone via Twitter. What he accidentally publicly posted was an inappropriate photo of himself. This led to a media frenzy, the uncovering of his history of inappropriate Twitter activity and ultimately his resigning from Congress.
The Red Cross
In another example of accidentally posting to a client’s account instead of one’s personal account, social media specialist Gloria Huang posted this on the Red Cross’ Twitter feed: “Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer…. when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzerd.” The tweet stayed online for about an hour before the social media director for the Red Cross discovered it and took it down. The Red Cross then tweeted, “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.” Meanwhile, Dogfish Head beer took advantage of the incident to encourage fans to donate to the Red Cross with this tweet: “RT @Michael_Hayek: #craftbeer @dogfishbeer fans, donate to @redcross 2day. Tweet with #gettngslizzerd. Donate here http://tinyurl.com/5s720bb.” This turned out to be a very minor incident for the Red Cross with a happy ending, thankfully.
During the 2012 Olympics, two Olympians were expelled for tweeting derogatory remarks about other ethnicities – Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou for making a joke about African immigrants in Greece, and Swiss soccer player Michel Organella for his rant about Koreans after his team lost a match to the South Korean team 2-1. Both made instant international news for their blunders, and added taint to their personal brands as athletes. The Olympics expelled them immediately in order to preserve its own brand of community and respect among nations.
Common Sense Tips to Avoid Epic Fails
All of the above mistakes were very easy to avoid. By keeping the following tips top of mind, you’ll be able to tweet safely and confidently while safeguarding your brand.
Don’t confuse your personal and corporate Twitter accounts.
When you come across something interesting to tweet about, should you do it as you or as your company? Our advice is: for your corporate Twitter account, ONLY tweet about things that are relevant to your industry and helpful to your customers. And never tweet anything that could even remotely be viewed as controversial on behalf of your company. It’s just too risky. Now, where do you draw the line in your personal Twitter account? Well, if you are a high profile CEO of a company like Go Daddy, you are taking a big risk by tweeting something controversial even on your personal Twitter account. A good rule of thumb is, if you have any doubt at all, just don’t tweet it. Your company’s brand and your own brand are too precious to tarnish over one misguided tweet.
Know the difference between tweeting and direct messaging.
If you tweet, it goes to the entire world. Even if you think that message is going directly to someone because you started it with that person’s twitter name, such as “@joetwitter” in fact, it is going on Joe Twitter’s wall for ALL of his followers to read and forward (retweet). If you want to send a message that ONLY Joe Twitter will be able to read, you have to click “Send a Direct Message.”
Don’t hijack trending topics for shameless self-promotion.
Whenever you include a “hashtag” (#) in a tweet, such as “#2012LondonOlympics,” you are telling everyone on Twitter that your tweet is relevant to this topic. If it legitimately is, then great. But, if you’re Kenneth Cole hijacking the Egyptian uprising to promote your fashions, it’s not only shameless, but also shameful in the view of many who will see your tweets.
Carefully vet your outsource social media team.
There are many companies claiming to be experts who can handle your social media for you. Before you engage them to represent your company on Twitter and other sites, make sure you carefully vet their quality control processes and their corporate cultures to ensure that they will act appropriately on your behalf.
Monitor, monitor, monitor.
If you are delegating social media outreach either to other employees or an outside agency, make sure to scan the tweets they send for your company, as well as posts to other social media sites, to ensure nothing inappropriate is released. This way, if something does go awry, you’ll be on top of the situation immediately versus after significant damage has occurred.
So, tweet away; just tweet with care, and you’ll enjoy the many benefits of Twitter for engaging with your community of customers and prospects.
Here’s to the marketing champion in all of us. See you in the next post.