10 Great Ways to Fail at Twitter

Deb Amlen
Yahoo Tech

Celebrities and corporations alike have been aggressively using Twitter, among other social media services, as a public relations medium for quite a while. But it’s growing alarmingly clear that, not everyone should be allowed behind the wheel of the social web without extensive — and in some cases remedial — training.

And I’m not even talking about the tweets where disgruntled employees hack their companies’ feeds and start trash-tweeting, like this charmer from a former Chrysler worker:

No, I’m talking about good, old-fashioned, foot-in-the-mouth marketing misfires. The kind that show us all how important it was to have been standing in line that day the common sense was handed out.

Want examples? Of course you do. Here are my top 10 ways celebrities and corporations have failed at Twitter:

10. Be a bot.
Starting us off in the “facepalm” category is American Airlines, which, after merging with US Airways, taught us a very valuable lesson: If you’re going to do social media, don’t be a bot:

9. Overestimate people’s opinion of you.
It’s common these days to see companies ask the Twitterverse to tweet at them in response to a marketing campaign. One day, in the spirit of “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” someone in McDonald’s-land thought it would be spiffy to ask customers to tweet their dining experiences to the company — and the entire Internet — using the hashtag #McDStories.

Challenge accepted. The Twitterverse was more than happy to answer back. There were many tweets that can’t be printed here mainly because my gag reflex triggers really easily, but here is one of the nicer ones:

McDonald’s social media director Rick Wion has stated that they realized that the idea wasn’t working and shut it down after just two hours. In a statement to the L.A. Times, he claimed that, “As Twitter continues to evolve its platform and engagement opportunities, we’re learning from our experiences.”

That would be nice, if it weren’t for this mystifying tweet from as recently as April 8:

Extra Buzzology credit: Tweet to me @debamlen if you think you know what “mouth teacher” or “meat school” are. But keep it clean, please. I’m a delicate flower.

8. Display your ignorance of offensive racial slurs proudly.
I don’t think this needs much explanation, so I’ll just leave it out there:

Home Depot subsequently called the tweet “dumb” and proudly announced — by copying and pasting the same tweet over and over again to anyone who complained — that the social media agency that released the picture and tweet had been sacked:


7. Overestimate people’s opinion of you, “bad timing” edition.
Not only did Qantas Airlines leave itself open to the usual amount of Internet snark when it invited people to tweet their idea of a “dream luxury in-flight experience” to the hashtag #QantasLuxury, but it chose to do it precisely one day after the company broke off contract negotiations with its unions, which grounded its entire fleet.

Needless to say, that ruffled a few feathers:


6. Graciously reveal your superpowers for the good of the world.
Courtney Love, best known for leading the punk band Hole and as Kurt Cobain’s widow, has revealed to the Twitterverse a supernatural ability to see things that the naval might of 26 nations could not detect: the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, which tragically disappeared somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

Having a superpower like telescopic sight is all well and good, but she took it a step further by taking to Facebook and Twitter to helpfully point out the area where she thought she might have spied the plane:


5. Forget that you’ve recently ruined people’s lives.
If you were a party to the greatest destruction of American wealth in a generation, you might want to remember that before you go about strutting your stuff. Unfortunately, financial behemoth J.P. Morgan Chase decided to go in a different direction and sent its vice chairman, Jimmy Lee, to the Twitterfront to answer questions about, oh, how things were hanging in general:

And people were more than happy to hate-tweet right back at the company:

And my own favorite:

This went on for quite a while throughout the day, until J.P. Morgan Chase decided to hang out the “Gone Fishing” sign:

4. Heartlessly use dramatic international events to sell your stuff.
The best marketers keep their eyes open for ways to get their goods in front of consumers’ faces, right?

Nobody does it better than shoe mogul Kenneth Cole himself. Mr. Cole, who probably should not be allowed anywhere near a computer keyboard at this point, has discovered a special “gift” for writing what he sees as totally humorous jokes about tragic world events and somehow finding a way to sell his shoes at the same time.

He did it once a few years ago, during the Arab Spring uprisings in Cairo:


After that, he learned a big lesson on being insensitive to human suffering, and he never did it again.

That’s what we would like to have happened, but he actually did it again this past September, using John Kerry’s “boots on the ground” phrase to thoughtfully encourage us all to start thinking about our spring wardrobe:

Ha ha! What a card you are, Kenneth Cole! I’ll bet no one secretly spits in your drink at parties.

3. Let your total disdain for your target market shine through.
Ah, where to start with the PR misadventures of lululemon, the yoga apparel manufacturer, and its founder Chip Wilson? It’s hard to choose just one.

In just a very short period of time last year, the company was seen mocking a domestic-abuse charity and making fun of women’s bodies while trying to cope with an embarrassing recall of yoga pants that were sheer in all the wrong places, if you get my drift. Because if you’re going to make $92 yoga pants that reveal everything when someone is in downward dog, why not just point the finger at your customers?

And, of course, the Twitterverse responded:

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Wilson apologized for his many, many missteps and resigned.

2. Be as tone-deaf to tragedy as humanly possible. 
You know what really helps soothe the soul after a tragedy of the magnitude of the Boston Marathon bombings? Cranberry scones. Or perhaps you might have a hankering for some oatmeal. At least that’s what the Condé Nast-owned recipe website Epicurious thought:


After the Twitterverse collectively responded with a resounding “What?!” Epicurious issued a humble apology. And then had a total meltdown, which looked like this:

1. Ask a stupid question.
I saved this tip for last because the example it made of actress and clueless anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy was just such a delicious case of Internet-wide schadenfreude.

In what can only be described in humor terms as a “lob,” she posed a question on Twitter that read:

What a great question. And after years of listening to Ms. McCarthy yell “Everybody panic!” about the now-disproven link between childhood vaccinations and increasing numbers of autism diagnoses, the Internet was more than happy to oblige:

Having gotten the answer to her question, Ms. McCarthy then decided to turn to more pressing topics:

Good luck to you too, Ms. McCarthy.


Do you have any spectacular Twitter fails to add to our collection? Oh, yes, I’m going to ask you to tweet them to me at @debamlen using the hashtag #buzzologyJust don’t make fun of any of my tweets.

Remember, I’m a delicate flower.

Is there something weirdly popular on the Internet that you’d like explained? Write to Deb Amlen at buzzologyYT@yahoo.com and let her know. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter (@debamlen).