Five Troubling Twitter Missteps and the Path to Redemption

By on October 18, 2012

It’s clear that social media is a very powerful tool for digital marketing and branding. With one tweet or post, a company can reach thousands or even millions of customers. On Twitter, getting your message out takes just a few words and a click. But that power can work against a company when someone mis-tweets, tweets without thinking, or ignores a tweet stream. Here are our five favorite examples of companies that stepped in it on Twitter.

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KitchenAid’s Debate Debacle

During the 2012 Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, a representative for Kitchen Aid tweeted from @KitchenAidUSA,

Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president"."??? Wow!" #nbcpolitics

Not only did the tweeter express a political opinion on behalf of a corporation, he or she invoked the President’s dead grandma. The tweet, which was mistakenly sent from the corporate account instead of a personal one, was quickly deleted but not before legions of angry or amused followers re-tweeted the comment and added their own.

KitchenAid handled the situation admirably. They apologized and vowed that the offending tweeter would be fired but the brand manager responded personally using her name and title. She denounced the tweet but took responsibility for it, as she heads the brand. Judging from the tweets that followed in response this move won some customers back, but not all.


Chrysler Tweets the F-Bomb

What could be worse than an irreverent tweet about the President’s dead grandma? How about dropping the f-bomb while insulting the people of the very city that is synonymous with your employer?

In 2011, in another example of tweeting to a corporate account thinking it’s a personal one, someone with access to Chrysler’s Twitter account wrote,

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

Chrysler scrambled into action and deleted the tweet. That accomplished little, since it had already been retweeted over and over. They issued an apology via Twitter, but it was anonymous and seemed designed to say as little as possible except, “umm…sorry.”

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

Chrysler did post a blog with slightly more explanation, a more effusive apology and an assurance that the person responsible for the tweet had been fired. However, they took no responsibility for hiring the media company that made the mistake. Comments on the Chrysler blog show that people found the firing to be extreme and Chrysler’s response to be too “corporate.”


The Red Cross Overindulges

In complete contrast to the Chrysler debacle, the Red Cross turned a big “oops” to their advantage in 2011. One evening, a social media specialist with the Red Cross tweeted from @RedCross,

Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head Midas Touch beer… when we drink we do it right #gettngslizzerd

The tweet stayed up for about an hour before it was deleted, but not before it went viral. Instead of denouncing the person who tweeted as a drunk, the Red Cross responded with humor, writing,

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

Because of Red Cross’s lighthearted response, Dogfish Head jumped in. They tweeted using the #gettngslizzerd hash tag, encouraging people to donate blood and money to the Red Cross. Bars that distribute their beer sent out tweets offering a free pint of beer to anyone who could show they donated a pint of blood. The Red Cross went to its blog to thank everyone for being understanding and for donating blood. Both companies dealt with the tweet with humor and compassion, people responded to that and it was a marketing boon for both.


Kenneth Cole Hijacks a Revolution

All of the above happened because someone posted a tweet to the wrong account. But bad tweets are sometimes intentional, if misguided. During the political uprising in Egypt in 2011, Kenneth Cole tweeted using the hash tag #Cairo,

Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online... – KC.

Millions were not amused. The tweet was on the corporate Twitter stream, and the initials at the end indicated that Kenneth Cole tweeted it personally. There could be no blame placed on an underling. The tweet was deleted and he apologized on Twitter and Facebook but the event took on a life of its own. Bogus Twitter accounts were set up to impersonate a Kenneth Cole account and comments were posted linking all sorts of current events to Kenneth Cole’s fashion line in an unflattering way.


United Airlines Misses the Connection

An errant or thoughtless tweet certainly is a mistake, but so is not monitoring your Twitter streams and responding to others tweets. This summer, a 10-year-old girl was flying alone to summer camp on United Airlines. She missed her connecting flight because the person who was to escort her, hired by United, did not show up. When she asked airline employees for help, they said they were too busy. Her parents found out she had missed the flight only when the camp called to say the girl had not arrived on the expected flight. The parents received very little help from United in finding their daughter, but she did eventually find her way to someone who could help. It wasn’t until the parents got a local TV station involved that United apologized.

After much frustration trying to get United to accept accountability and, at the very least, refund them the $99 they were charged as the unaccompanied minor fee, the parents allowed a friend to write about it in his blog. The blog was posted on a Monday and the story went viral, including on Twitter. United’s Twitter stream was a string of complaints and bad service stories. United ignored the complaints and touted its connection to the recently completed 2012 Olympics instead.

A full day later, which was plenty of time for the ire to build, United issued an apology on Facebook and linked it to Twitter. Things calmed down a bit, but the damage was already done. By ignoring the problem, they made it much worse.


Be Personal, Not Corporate-al

Social media is used to share information and stories, make plans, and connect with friends. It’s a way for people to connect with other people. When a company acts like a company instead of a person in social media, the way United did by ignoring negative comments and simply pushing its brand, it’s rarely received well. By ignoring the human element of the conflict in Egypt and failing to show compassion, Kenneth Cole acted like an impersonal company and angered people. Chrysler never lost their corporate persona in dealing with their situation, which reinforced the negative impression that many already had.

In contrast, KitchenAid made a big company feel small when the brand manager put her name to the tweets and personally accepted responsibility. People were more willing to concede that mistakes happen and KitchenAid was truly sorry, not just issuing a standard mea culpa.

And the Red Cross responded to its staffer’s gaffe the way they might smooth things over with a friend – with self-effacing humor and understanding. This brought out the humanity in others, including the folks at Dogfish Head. The positive press, public support and goodwill that resulted were apt rewards.

Social media management is difficult and time consuming. Ridge Marketing is a full service creative agency and can help you create or refine your social media program to reflect your company’s personality and branding. Follow us on Twitter, or get in touch to talk.



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