Avoiding the Twitter #fail

Avoiding the Twitter #fail

I’m sure you’re well aware of the US Airways Twitter #fail that has had the Twitterverse in a spin. The airline accidentally tweeted a pornographic image featuring a naked woman and a toy aeroplane in response to at least two customer service tweets. One from a young female user identified as Alex, who said: “You ruined my spring break, I want some free stuff @USAirways H8 YOU”. And another to @ElleRafter who was whinging about a flight delay.

US Airways tweeted an apology as soon as it noticed its blunder and deleted the tweet, but this was not before hundreds of people had taken screenshots of the offending image and shared it across the Twitterverse as well as many other social platforms.

In an attempt to clear up some of the confusion around how the image was posted, the airline put out a statement saying that it was an honest mistake.

"We apologize for the inappropriate image we recently shared in a Twitter response. Our investigation has determined that the image was initially posted to our Twitter feed by another user. We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer. We immediately realized the error and removed our tweet. We deeply regret the mistake and we are currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future."

Since US Airways has more than 420,000 followers, it’s not surprising that the image spread like wildfire with reactions ranging from disgust to hilarity.

Interestingly, the timing of the US Airways Twitter #fail overlapped with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners and the top honours being awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post for their coverage of the Edward Snowden NSA revelations. It may be a sad indictment on the Twitterverse or our interests in general – but no prizes for guessing which topic people shared most? 

This led to amusing tweets like this:

I think the US Airways story serves to highlight the real dangers of cross posting. Only by logging off one account and then logging onto another can you be certain that messages designed for one account never end up being published by another.

Of course, US Airways certainly isn't the first company to commit a social media gaffe, and it most certainly won’t be the last.

Sanity-check the hashtag

Remember the hoo-ha that surrounded Susan Boyle and the invitation to the launch of her new album? An unfortunate choice of hashtag led to quite different connotations.


The hashtag was hastily changed to the more family-friendly #SusanBoyleAlbumParty.

Then of course, Margaret Thatcher’s death last year initially left Cher fans bereft.

Of course, the Twitter hashtag is meant to be read as "now Thatcher's dead" — not "now that Cher's dead."

Be careful when scheduling tweets

In another example of a Twitter fail, Radiohead pulled out of a Toronto concert in 2012 after a stage collapsed, killing one person and injuring three others in the hours before their concert was due to begin.

Radiohead's official Twitter feed advised the concert was cancelled and that fans should not to make their way to the venue.

LiveNation, the promoter for the event also tweeted that the show has been cancelled, so people would not head to the venue.

However, LiveNation forgot to turn off their automatic tweets. So at 6:00pm fans received requests for them to send in their photos of the concert to create an online album. 

LiveNation obviously planned to feed the buzz of the show and drive people to tweet about the show in real-time. But really, why the PR team couldn’t have done this in real time is hard to explain. After all, a tweet is just 140 characters and they take about 20 seconds to type. Sure, script them in advance if you have to – but don’t resort to scheduling tweets at live events.

Keep personal rants, personal

In another tale of Twitter #fail in 2012, the KitchenAid Twitter feed was the unlikely source of a nasty comment about President Obama's grandmother, who died shortly before he took office. 

While in this case, it's obvious that it was the personal opinion of someone on the KitchenAid social media team who had accidentally broadcast their point of view on the company account, the KitchenAid team had to spring into damage control.

First, KitchenAid deleted the tweet and followed it up with: 

"Deepest apologies for an irresponsible tweet that is in no way a representation of the brand's opinion. #nbcpolitics."

Then, Cynthia Soledad, KitchenAid’s senior director of marketing released this statement to explain the failing:

“During the debate tonight, a member of our Twitter team mistakenly posted an offensive tweet from the KitchenAid handle instead of a personal handle. The tasteless joke in no way represents our values at KitchenAid and that person won’t be tweeting for us anymore … I am deeply sorry to President Obama, his family, and the Twitter community for this careless error.”

This is by far one of the easiest mistakes to make on social media. Switching back and forth on social profiles can lead to no end of confusion. Triple check that all posts come from the intended account to avoid the public profile mix-up mistake. 

Simon van Wyk, founder of HotHouse 

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