Corporate Twitter Disasters: How To Avoid or Overcome Social Media Tragedies

Twitter Oops

Many companies are trying to capture the power of the social media to promote their brand, engage customers and turn tweets or status updates into profits. The success of social media campaigns achieved by Old Spice and Ford Fiesta are showcased as shining beacons for brand recognition and profit margins. However, as companies try to duplicate those successes or simply have a voice online they may find themselves in sticky situations that can lead to public humiliation or damage their brand. Staying out of social media environments doesn’t always help either as it hinders companies from being able to respond to bad press quickly. Through this blog I canvased social media disasters with a focus on Twitter to understand the inherent risks and how things can go wrong in 140 characters or less. I listed four main categories that companies should be cautious of, provided examples of when things blow up and identified key lessons from the examples provided or experts in the field around how to avoid or deal with these disasters.


Kenneth Cole tweet

Screen shot of Kenneth Cole tweet

“Are brands people?” This is a question asked in the book Twitterville, by Shel Israel, who raises arguments around how brands can fit into the conversational environment of Twitter when they represent themselves as entities not individuals. Companies that choose to have an online presence but forego having personal connections with their followers put themselves at risk of being criticized for product pushing or cold demeanors as demonstrated through the examples below:


  • Snickers hired UK celebrities to trick Twitter followers into viewing an ad by enticing them with uncharacteristic tweets. The campaign resulted in an Office of Fair Trade investigation and backlash against celebs who participated. [More…]

Lack of compassion

  • Boeing rejected an eight year olds plane design with a corporate form letter. The child’s dad took turned to Twitter garnering criticism from followers which prompted a public apology from Boeing. [More…]

Hashtag abuse

  • Kenneth Cole outraged tweeters by using a #Cairo hashtag to promote its spring line making light of riots taking place in Egypt [More…]
Key Learning’s

1. Don’t use tricks or gimmicks to get product attention.
Snickers campaign failed due to its blatant attempt at tricking people into viewing their produce. By comparison, a successful campaign like, Old Spice’s, was holistically successful by creating an experience that people want to be a part of.
2.Proactively listen to social media to be able to catch customer complaints early.Boeing was able to redeem itself because it had a social media presence and was watching Twitter. This enabled them to get involved in the conversation early and address the issue.3. Be cautious of hash tags, do not use them to shamelessly promote productsMashable article by David Berkowitz cautions companies against aimlessly jumping into conversations with hashtags. Companies need to recognize that the response to hashtags can be unpredictable and having emergency plans on hand is a must if a company attempts to use them with their brand.4. When a mistake happens in public your apology must be public your apologies must be public

Both Boeing and Kenneth Cole issued public apologies to demonstrate their humility and humanize themselves as people, not just brands.


A study called “What is Twitter, a Social Network or a News Media?” by Haewoon Kwak, Changhyun Lee, Hosung Park, and Sue Moon – Department of Computer Science, Korea, found that “any retweeted tweet is to reach an average of 1,000 users no matter what the number of followers is of the original tweet. Once retweeted, a tweet gets retweeted almost instantly on next hops, signifying fast diffusion of information after the 1st retweet.” With Twitter communications moving at the speed of a click through a single retweet, the ability to perpetuate rumors and false information is easy. Companies find themselves at risk when their accounts are jeopardized.


  • Burger King’s Twitter feed was hijacked by hackers who swapped their logo with their McDonald’s Golden Arches and proceeded to fill their feed with racist comments and references to drug usage over the course of an hour resulting in 50+ rogue tweets. One day later, Jeep suffered from a similar attack leading followers to believe they were taken over by Cadillac. As soon as the hacks were discovered, the twitter accounts were taken offline. Once reinstated the companies made statements that explained what happened. [More…]

    Burger King hack

    Screen shot of Burger King hack

  • Associated Press suffered a Twitter hack and a rouge tweet to followers indicated Obama was injured in bombing attack. A correction was issued within minutes; however the DOW still fell 140 points temporarily wiping out millions from the stock market. [More…]
Key Learning’s
1. Be aware of the risk of a hack taking place and have emergency procedures on handCustomer service consultant Brad Cleveland was quoted in a Yahoo News article stating that “It’s best for companies to think about how they can prevent attacks in the first place and what do we do when it happens. You need to know who jumps in and does what.”2. Issue correction statements as soon as possible, over-communication may be best in this situation to clear the air.Media publicist Bruce Serbin was quoted in a Yahoo News article stating that “In these types of crisis situation, you have to over-communicate. You need to be honest and straightforward; otherwise rumors will start to spread.”


According to Twitter’s about page it offers businesses an easy way of reaching and engaging audiences and obtaining instant market intelligence and feedback – BUT let’s look at happens when the public thinks a company sucks or reacts to a company’s social media efforts in negative way.


Screen shot of angered Ragu tweets


  • McDonalds prompted tweeters to share heart-warming happy meal stories using the hash tag #McDStories. Instead, Tweeters used it as an opportunity to share their McDonald horror stories turning their hashtag into a bashtag [More…]


  • Ragu tried to promote its pasta sauce by pitting moms against dads in the kitchen. In addition to irritating followers by sending out “spam” like corporate tweets they outraged people by publishing a YouTube video that made dad’s look incompetent in the kitchen. Twitter users expressed their distaste towards Ragu’s methods by responding and retweeting with messages like “Ragu Hates Dads and they are spammers.” On Ragu’s end there was silence, no response or commentary to the negative reactions [More…]


  • Lionhead Studios, a game development company, shut down a parody account spurred off of Peter Molyneux, a designer for the company who was known to overpromise and under-deliver on designs and had an out of the box way of thinking. After shutting down the account, there was a leap in the number of negative mentions against the company. [More…]
Key Learning’s
1. Do not expect everyone to love your brand or productAs McDonald’s discovered, for as many people who may love their food there could be just as many who don’t. A Mashable article by David Berkowitz suggests that if companies find themselves in this position they should do whatever they can do intervene such as engaging consumers to steer the conversation back or pulling the hashtag. While it didn’t stop the bashing in McDonald’s case it helped considerably.2. Negative comments are cumulative and live online forever – don’t ignore themIn an article on Social Media Today, author Paul Kiser advises that companies should not ignore negative social media comments as they live online forever and don’t go away. Also, there is the potential of finding many like-minded individuals which leads to a mob of disapprovers. Kiser advises companies to turn the negative into positives by addressing the situation instead of letting it roll.3. Embrace parodies whenever possible

According to Brand Watch community manager, Joel Windels, Twitter parodies are a unique online phenomenon and it is important for companies to determine whether the tweets or comments are impacting the company in a meaningful way before shutting down or intervening with mock accounts. In some cases it’s best to let them run their path or there can be a negative response.

4. Companies can manage their online reputations with six key steps

The book “Listen First” by Stephen Rappaport reveals six key tactics that companies use to manage their online reputations and help diffuse negativity in social media:

  • Discover product threats by listening to social media and proactively develop communications that address the issue
  • Listen to all relevant social media channels not just some to help identify complaints
  • Understand which voices are driving discussion, is it customers or the media – this will help determine a method for addressing the issue
  • Listen to customer dissatisfaction, act and engage in social environmental issues
  • Convert negative sentiment for instance a video game fan noticed a glitch in a game featuring Tiger Woods and took to social media to highlight the error. The game developers took an unconventional approach to turn things in their favor by promoting it as an “easter egg” feature of the game.



Mistaken tweet from Kitchen Aid employee

Even when a company does everything right with respect to social media, on occasion they can find that an employee has them in the hot seat.

Account Swap

  • Kitchen Aid employee sends anti-Obama tweet from company account creating a stir. Kitchen Aid responded to the disaster by deleting the tweet issuing several tweets apologizing and contacted news outlets who had picked up the story. The employee who accidentally issued the tweet was fired. [More…]

Employee’s Violate Product

  • Domino’s employees made a video of themselves violating food that they were about to serve to customers and posted it to the internet. The video went viral on YouTube and soon made its way across Twitter and Facebook. It was 48 hours before Dominos was able to have the video removed, by then it had already festered amongst social media channels and done its damage [More…]
Key Learning’s1. Delete mistaken tweets, make multiple apologies and contact news outletsKitchen aid provides a good example of how to respond to misplaced tweets. Be thorough and vocal about mistakes to rectify situations like these.2. Having a presence established online can help companies react to situations fasterForbes writer Patrick Vogt emphasizes the importance of being able to resolve social media issues quickly, and provide steps that companies can follow to solidify their brand online to help defend against these attacks including humanizing the brand, creating relationships with customers and demonstrating that the companies / brands positive attributes.

The internet is a fluid beast and moves rapidly. With the ability to share comments in a click, and most re-tweets taking place in an hour of release, social media disperses information quickly. Listen First, a book by Stephen Rappaport, states “We must recognize that companies are no longer separate from customers but rather a part of the conversation. Brands need to anticipate turns in order to confidently and effectively plan, engage and respond.” Knowing what the social media risks are may help companies develop proactive strategies that will enable them to deal with online disasters or even prevent them. The power of social media is in the collective and collaborative voice, when people ban together they cannot be ignored. When multiple tweets are read as one, thanks to power of a hashtag, they become shouts not whispers. A corporate voice lacking in personality and humility will not be strong enough to respond, companies need to be able to humanize themselves in social online environments. Press releases and CEO statements can help resolve issues that take place outside of social media; however, the online environment is different and personality is warranted. After all, people may be choosing to invite a company into their feed as a friend or a respected business. It’s important to maintain that relationship without abusing it and recognize that social media gives the public a way to speak to or against a business whether it’s listening or not.


One thought on “Corporate Twitter Disasters: How To Avoid or Overcome Social Media Tragedies

  1. Pingback: Using Silence to Protect Your Brand on Twitter? Bad Idea. | WRD 525

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