How To Kill Your Brand In 140 Characters

What ever happened to planning? Everyone seems to be in such a hurry these days and they think that social media is so easy that they want to rush right out the door with their campaign and forget to have a second set of eyes look at what they’re about to put out for the whole world to see. Don’t you think that requires a little bit of planning?

Smart brands know that before a company engages in social media, they need a social media policy. However, even a social media policy can’t protect your brand from the 140 character disaster.  The 140 character disaster are tweets that make a brand look stupid and decrease brand affinity because of one stupid tweet or one bad Twitter campaign. And who was responsible? Occasionally, it’s a C-level exec with a Blackberry (e.g. Kenneth Cole), but usually it’s some one much lower on the totem pole who is responsible for social media, like the social media manager or worse, a poor little intern.

As a company the accountability resides in the leadership team. They are putting people in charge of social media and they are trusting people with their brand identity.

Evidence of brands who have had 140 character disasters:

Microsoft – didn’t think their strategy through before posting this tweet.

Computer giant, Microsoft, decided it would exploit the Japan earthquake for all it was worth in retweets by promising to give $1 for every retweet up to $100K. They were soon made aware of the error in their “generosity” and automatically donated the $100K sans retweets.

McDonald’s – did not think that a hashtag could turn into a bashtag.

McDonald’s tried to inspire positive stories about their brand on Twitter by creating the hashtag #McDStories and it backfired – big time.

Kenneth Cole – didn’t realize that jokes on social media are a bad idea.

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole made a crass joke about the overthrow in Egypt which was not received well by fans.

Actor, Ashton Kutcher – commented on a headline he saw on Twitter without reading the article.

Actor Ashton Kutcher took to Joe Paterno’s defense after he was fired after reading a headline on Twitter without reading why Joe was fired. He apologized on his blog and turned his Twitter account over to his PR firm.

Vodafone UK – made the mistake of having a rookie be in charge of their Twitter account.

Vodafone UK had an employee accidentally tweet on their corporate account “is fed up dirty homo’s and is going after beaver” – they got an influx of tweets criticizing them by Lesbian and Gay rights activists and had to apologize to all.

 Actress, Rashida Jones – realized that you shouldn’t talk about other people’s sexual orientation.

After an interview on about her new film ‘Celeste and Jesse’ where she commented that he should just come out already referring to John Travolta’s presumed homosexuality, she issued this apology on Twitter.


So what should brands do if they make a mistake on social media? 

According to Melissa Agnes, a social media crisis manager, if brands say they “regret” their actions then it makes their lawyers feel better because they didn’t admit guilt, but it doesn’t do anything for them in the eyes of their customers or fans. On the other hand saying their “sorry” while it does humanize their brand and restore good faith, it also can set them up for lawsuits. See her full article on When Should A Brand Apologize?

Do you have any other suggestions for brands who make blunders on Twitter?


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About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.