Five Ways Company Tweeting Can Go Wrong

Technology M&A in 2019

With Twitter, you’ve been handed a marketing gift – if you use it right. However, managed haphazardly, and this social networking miracle can spell public relations doom for your company. You communicate directly with consumers, and it’s done so quickly that undoing a messaging blunder is near impossible. Below, find five examples of how companies can lose control of a message or inadvertently stoke outrage from followers.

1. Your Company Steps in it with Bad Timing

Not all publicity is good. Companies are increasingly under scrutiny as they use social media for advertising purposes. Finding the right voice is difficult, and occasionally, an attempt at humor will backfire.

Retailer Kenneth Cole, for example, grossly misread the early days of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, tweeting early on that rumors of an uproar in Cairo might be related to the company’s recently announced online sale. Similarly, Gilbert Gottfried, then-spokesman for Aflac Insurance, tweeted crude jokes about the Japanese tsunami as the news was still unfolding.

Kenneth Cole took heat for its ill-timed tweet, and Aflac cut ties with Gottfried. Clean-up isn’t always so neat and tidy; let’s face it, you still think of Gilbert Gottfried when the commercials’ replacement duck quacks, and you’re reminded why he got the axe in the first place.

2. An Employee Goes Rogue, Intentionally or Not

A CEO likely doesn’t do the company tweeting. That task is delegated to someone down the chain of command. The risk is that the tweeter – a human, after all – could flip his lid in a very public way.

Take Marc Jacobs, for example. The clothing retailer suffered a Twitter snafu recently when a disgruntled intern took the Twitter helm to bash his boss. He fired off a series of malicious tweets from his iPhone, which was synced with the company account. The tweets were pulled quickly, and Marc Jacobs sent out a rapid response for anyone who might have seen the outbursts: “All is well here at MJ. Twitter is a crazy place. Protect your passwords.”

Similar Twitter catastrophes have happened completely by mistake. A year ago, an employee of a marketing agency mistakenly logged into his client’s Twitter account. In a subsequent tweet, he dropped an f-bomb to insult Detroit drivers from the account of Chrysler. Chrysler fired the agency immediately.

3. You’re Hacked by an Outsider

It happens to celebrities all the time (think Britney Spears and Rick Sanchez), but these hacks are usually obvious soon enough, and the person can undo the damage quickly. For a business, on the other hand, the consequences can be significant.

Fox News’ political Twitter account was hacked last summer, during which six convincingly written posts reported that President Obama had been killed. While Fox was quick to regain control of its account and clarify that it had been hacked, the potential for losing credibility is still great. Companies should closely guard passwords and change them frequently.

4. Your Message is Hijacked

The most recent and high-profile example of this is the failed McDonalds attempt to solicit positive feedback with its #McDStories hashtag campaign (users pounced on the tag and used it to publicly spout off horrible stories about the restaurant chain).

It’s not uncommon for an ill-timed or half-baked hashtag campaign to backfire.

Australia-based Qantas Airline last fall launched a Twitter campaign asking followers to describe their ideas of a “dream luxury in-flight experience” for a chance to win Qantas merchandise. Unfortunately, the tweet went out around the same time that that the airline’s entire fleet was grounded because of a labor dispute, prompting thousands of angry customers to take out their frustrations using the same promotional campaign as a platform. Oops.

5. The Trolls Attack

The more successful your Twitter page is, the more trolls will creep up on you. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling vehicle lifts or cold weather work gloves; you’ll learn quickly that people have very strong opinions. Trolls are typically anonymous users who berate blogs and Twitter posts with incendiary comments. These comments are either automatically generated (tweet any mention of Anakin Skywalker, for example, and the “Yoda Bot” troll will be on you lickity split) or by tweeters with nothing better to do. In general, it’s not worth it for your company Twitter account to engage with trolls. Just ignore them.

As you can tell, hosting a company Twitter account is risky, but it’s also an excellent way to connect with consumers. Know the dangers of this public and lightning-fast means of corporate communications, and host a cautious – yet successful – dialogue with your followers.

Bio: Chris Peterson is a copywriter for Straight North, a leading firm for Web development in Chicago. He specializes in B2B and B2C marketing, with experience in informational blog posts, press releases, and website content that emphasizes Search Engine Optimization. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he earned a Master’s degree in journalism.

Straight North provides a full range of online marketing services, including its innovative Chicago Web design group and highly experienced Chicago SEO team. Straight North develops strategy and executes marketing programs for clients with lead generation and e-commerce websites, and market regionally, nationally or internationally. Follow Straight North on Twitter and connect with Straight North on Facebook.

Image credit: Travis IsaacsHammer51012

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