7 Businesses That Failed at Twitter

Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 9:13pm by Sandy Jones

The social media revolution has become an integral component of businesses worldwide. However, some businesses may not entirely grasp how they can most effectively use social media to promote their brand. Occasionally, a Twitter or Facebook campaign intended for marketing value goes horribly wrong. Sometimes this is as a result of third party interferences, while other social media flops are merely due to poorly thought out decisions. Either way, Twitter has proven itself as a powerful force behind both negative and positive publicity for a company.

  1. @Sweden

    Prompted by a government initiative, the Swedish Institute and Visit Sweden, two tourism companies in Sweden, hired the advertising company Volontaire to think up a way that Sweden could promote their country to the world. The result was @Sweden, which enlisted a different Swede each week to represent the country’s personal Twitter account. The Twitter handle has been passed down to a variety of selected Swedes, with ages ranging from 18 to 60 years old, and they must meet a few, simple criteria — be interesting, Twitter-literate, and post in English. However, once the account was passed down to Sonja Abrahamsson, the ambitious PR stunt backfired. Abrahamsson, a 27-year-old mother of two, immediately began posting anti-Semitic and otherwise lewd comments that quickly drew public attention and disgust. "Once I asked a co-worker what a jew is. He was ‘part jew’, whatever that means," Abrahamsson wrote, among many other musings on Jewish culture, "He’s like ‘uuuuh… jews are.. uh.. well educated..?’" While the rest of the world saw the faux pas as an embarrassment for Sweden at large, the Swedish government stuck to their original initiative and did not censor any comments.

  2. #Mcdstories

    When McDonald’s began a Twitter campaign using paid-for Tweets that appear at the top of search engines, it nudged the discussion of their brand using hashtags. The first hashtag, "#MeetTheFarmers," did not instigate much discussion, given that most McDonald’s eaters couldn’t care less about the farming process behind a Happy Meal. However, when McDonald’s issued a comment under the hashtag "#McDStories," comments blew up, and not all of them were exactly positive. One user tweeted, "I ate a @McDonalds cheeseburger a few years ago and got food poisoning so bad that I had to get hospitalized. That is my #mcdstories." Another countered with, "Eating a Quarter Pounder value meal makes me feel exactly the same as an hour of violent weeping. #McDStories." McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion immediately set forth to stop the negative publicity by pulling the #McDStories hashtag off of the trending list. However, McDonald’s still bore the scar of about 1,456 Tweets with sarcastic, horrific, and otherwise negative comments under the #McDStories hashtag.

  3. #CamryEffect

    In an effort to create a marketing campaign based around the new Camry being promoted via Superbowl commercials, Toyota created nine accounts — @CamryEffect1 through @CamryEffect9 — that would send promotional messages to anyone tweeting about the Superbowl at large. The tweets encouraged users to enter a contest to win a new Camry. However, instead of creating a buzz, the unsolicited messages were seen as spam and hastily received criticism from Twitter users everywhere. Users were also angry that Twitter verified nine different accounts for Toyota’s usage, and ensuing backlash prompted Twitter to suspend the accounts immediately, ending the failed campaign in its tracks. One user posted, "Does having a verified @Twitter account give @Toyota / @CamryEffect7 the right to spam people? #socialmediafail." Embarrassed, Toyota issued an apology via Digital Marketing and Social Media Manager Kimberley Gardiner shortly thereafter.

  4. #Amazonfail

    Amazon infuriated customers when it removed the sales rankings of many books with homosexual content due to the fact that they were supposedly all intended for mature audiences. When the sales rankings of a book are removed, they are no longer able to appear on the best seller list. They also may be tricky to search for. As a result, books like The Mayor Of Castro Street: The Life And Times Of Harvey Milk were difficult to find even though they are clearly not erotica, simply because there are gay and lesbian themes present. In response, Twitter became ablaze with conversation about the stint with each comment appearing alongside "#amazonfail." Amazon backpedaled, blaming the issue on a "software glitch," but its incensed customers sought to punish the company by degrading it on social media platforms. Finally, Amazon released a formal apology, noting that the problem applied to a multitude of book genres, and not just those with gay and lesbian themes, including health, mind and body, reproductive and sexual medicine, and erotica. Yet, the damage was done, and if you search for #amazonfail on their Twitter feed, you can still see a couple pages of the drama.

  5. @ChryslerAutos

    A foul-mouthed employee with his hands on the company Twitter handle made Chrysler look like a bit of a jerk when he posted the tweet, "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive." The tweet was immediately sent to the feeds of more than 7,000 followers, many of whom retweeted the statement. Chrysler quickly removed the comment and tweeted, "Our apologies – our account was compromised earlier today. We are taking steps to resolve it." The account, operated by social media company New Media Strategies, was initially thought to have been mistaken for a personal account. However, Chrysler expanded on the issue with an in-depth blog post, revealing that the rogue tweeter was actually a disgruntled employee from NMS, and noted that the employee had been terminated. Many felt that the matter wasn’t dealt with very gracefully, especially given that Chrysler had outed themselves as using a separate company to deal with social media when social media platforms are mainly intended to make people feel more personally acquainted with a brand.

  6. @HabitatUK

    Habitat, a home furnishings store, blatantly abused the power of social media by using popular, trending hashtags to promote their brand. The spammy posts were made using not only hashtag topics like "#iPhone" that they knew would have a powerful social media presence, but also tasteless topics concerning the situation in Iran. The result did not gain them more followers, but merely alienated people who did not wish for their feeds to contain misleading hashtag comments. It also effectively showed their customers that they didn’t understand how Twitter works, or didn’t care that their methods for gaining exposure were unethical. The tweets were deleted and Habitat apologized, stating that the tweets were not authorized by the company and were not consistent with their social media strategies. They also addressed a number of tweets that postulated that Habitat was using a third party to deliver tweets to the Twitter community by stating, "In response to speculation, we would like to clarify the hashtags were not uploaded by an agency."

  7. Skittles

    Skittles attempted a social media campaign that turned their entire website into a live feed, combining Skittles’ Twitter, Facebook, YouTube Channel, Wikipedia entry, and photos on Flickr that were tagged as being candy wrappers. The idea was that people would actively discuss Skittles on any of these platforms and it would show up on the website’s main page, providing more incentive for Skittles-related conversation. Instead, the website’s main page became a breeding ground for profane comments and generally unrelated content. Other companies even used Skittles’ page to advertise their own work, taking advantage of anyone else browsing Skittles’ website. Ben Weisman, a marketing expert for the Iris agency which put together Skittles’ website noted that, "Skittles, or any other brand, has to be ready to accept the users’ positive and negative comments." While that may be true, it’s probably not necessary to openly invite negative press via immature Twitter enthusiasts.


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