PR Nightmares on Twitter: What Small Brands can Learn

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Some well-known brands have experienced major PR disasters on Twitter. Fortunately, small brands can learn from the mistakes of their big business counterparts, and avoid the ensuing publicity nightmares. Here are a few of the biggest examples our Los Angeles social media managers have identified, along with some ideas on how other brands can avoid a similar fate.

Know What You’re Getting Into

We talk about transparency being a virtue on social media, but if a brand has a checkered past, that transparency must be calculated at every step. For instance, a Q&A session on Twitter may not be the best move. JPMorgan learned this recently when the banking brand created the hashtag #AskJPM, designed to give users a forum to chat with the company vice chairman. Predictably, the thread was hijacked by users who hadn’t forgotten the bank’s role in the 2008 financial collapse. Some of the most cynical tweets included:

  • Do all employees get noise-canceling headphones to mute the sounds of poverty your foreclosures cause, or do only execs get those? #askJPM
  • Can I have my house back? #askJPM
  • How do you decide who to foreclose on? Darts or a computer program? #AskJPM

Not surprisingly, the scheduled chat session was canceled. If a brand has undergone any type of scandal, it is best to refrain from encouraging a mass onslaught of questions. True, this example is a company with a national profile – but even small businesses can experience scandal on a local scale, and they should be careful to avoid opening themselves up to further criticism on Twitter.

Remember Who the Audience Is

Almost two years earlier (granted, two years is more like 10 when it comes to the evolution of Twitter), McDonald’s attempted a similarly fated hashtag, #McDStories. The brand’s intent was obvious: prompting users to share heartening memories of childhoods spent eating Happy Meals. But the company took Twitter for granted, naively assuming that users would only share their positive memories of McDonald’s. Instead, the hashtag was taken over by an assortment of McDonald’s skeptics – everyone from customers sharing the details of their food poisoning to activists posting the now-famous photo of “pink slime” believed to be an ingredient in Chicken McNuggets.

As one newspaper observed of the #McDStories debacle, “Some stories are better left untold.” The takeaway for smaller brands is to remember that not everyone in the audience is a fan, and Twitter is where the snarkiest non-fans are lurking.

Be Careful what Hashtags You Exploit

Using a popular hashtag for promotion is something that many brands do. But take note: Not every hashtag is meant to be a vehicle to sell a product. When an international crisis or national tragedy is underway, its related hashtags are not a good platform for you to:

  • Promote your items (Kenneth Cole, with the hashtag #Cairo)
  • Show how charitable you are (Bing, with the hashtag #SupportJapan)
  • Joke that the hashtag is related to your product (Celeb Boutique, hashtag #Aurora)

Avoiding a Twitter PR Nightmare

In order to avoid their own Twitter PR disasters, smaller brands can learn from the mistakes of these others. If you wish to speak with an experienced social media agency that knows how to navigate Twitter for its clients and build the right relationship with a Twitter audience, contact the Los Angeles social media experts at Crest Media.


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