Happy Belated Birthday Twitter- You Have Taught Us So Much!

By Mandy Cudahy In light of Twitter’s birthday yesterday, March 21st 2011, I thought this was the perfect time to reflect on some of the biggest Twitter blunders over the past 5 years and what brands have learned from these occurrences.

@BPGlobalPR Was Created: During one of the worst oil spills in years, BP spent their days trying to stop over 5,000 barrels a day from being leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. In the midst of their efforts rose a satirical Twitter account that attempted to misrepresent the brand, poke fun at the situation, and do a whole lot of brand damage. This fictitious account was created to make BP look like a company that didn’t take the Gulf disaster seriously or care about those affected. @BPGlobalPR gained more followers than the real BP account and what is worse is the company did nothing to stop it.

Key Learnings: If not adopted as part your regular marketing mix and monitored closely, Twitter can be dangerous for brands, especially during a crisis. Always have social media a crisis management plan in place so that you are able to act as quickly as  information spreads.


@HabitatUK Adopts a Spamming Strategy: Habitat, a trendy furniture store in the UK, was responsible for one of the most high-profile Twitter fails in 2009, hijacking popular hashtag topics in its Tweets on unrelated topics to attempt to garner awareness. Their strategy was to use the top trending hashtags in their promotional tweets, not even paying attention to the topic.  Where the biggest blunder happened was the use of tags related to the violence happening in Iran – in between the tweets expressing support and updates on what was going on, Habitat updates were posted sharing its latest offers and contests. The worst part about this is the company later deleted the offending tweets, continued as though nothing had happened, and then finally claimed the tweets were not authorized by the company.

Key Learnings: Never try to gain awareness through spam. Being transparent, engaging, and providing value should always be the biggest part of your social media strategy. Always own up to your mistakes - lying will only make it worse.


#Amazonfail: Amazon learned the hard way that Twitter can take even the smallest “error” and make it huge. The hashtag #Amazonfail quickly became one of the most popular tags on the site in April of 2009, after the online retailer positioned lesbian and gay books as adult content. This meant that many authors couldn’t get a sales ranking for their books and were blacklisted. The company blamed a glitch in its sales rank feature, but thousands of Twitter users were never convinced this was the truth.

Key Learnings: Similar to the previously mentioned blunders, companies should always have a social media crisis plan in place and be transparent about their mistakes.


Skittles.com: Although headed in the right direction, Skittles jumped into a Twitter strategy before completely understanding how the medium worked.  The brand created a link on their website that re-directed users to a Twitter page featuring every tweet mentioning “Skittles”. Very clever and a great way to cross promote their social media efforts, but when they first set up the link the plan backfired.  Twitter users felt used as there was no two-way communication with the product or the company; instead ,their posts were just being used as content for the website. What followed was users flooding the search results page with less than complimentary joke comments on the brand, such as, “Skittles got stuck in my mouth while I was driving, forced me to slam into orphanage, killing hundreds. I’ll never eat them again.”

Key Learnings: Always have a thought-out strategy in place before jumping onto a new medium. If Skittles had understood how Twitter worked and interacted with their fans by providing value, this could have been avoided.


Southwest Airlines - The Weight Issue: Yet another brand that has underestimated power of Twitter and the voices of their consumers. When Southwest employees told comedian and director Kevin Smith that he was too large to fit into a single coach seat and removed him from a flight back in 2009, the Hollywood star flew off the handle – and straight to Twitter. He posted several influential tweets that had many of his loyal fans in an uproar. Southwest apologized and offered him a $100 voucher, which he thought was insulting and refused.  He publicly vowed to never to fly Southwest again.

Key Learnings: A customer’s voice is much stronger and even more influential with the power of social media and thus brands should ensure they are handling every customer issue with the utmost care and compassion. If you have to apologize for an error in a public forum, never make the situation worse by insulting the customer with a less than valuable compensation.

Which of these Twitter blunders do you think your company can learn most from? Do you have any others to share? Share your thoughts in the comments below!