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The 5 Worst Twitter Marketing Fails of 2014

Sometimes the best way to learn what to do is to learn what not to do. If your goal is to rock your company’s tweets next year, rubbernecking at brands that bombed big-time on Twitter this year can help you avoid trending for the wrong reasons. After all, tweeting smart means never having to say you're sorry.

You get the point: Don’t be like the brands on our naughty list below. In our book, they’re guilty of committing the ugliest Twitter marketing sins of 2014. From hijacked hashtags, to accidentally tweeted hardcore porn, here are the worst Twitter marketing mistakes this year, plus what you can learn from them.

5. When Spirit Airlines used the celeb nude photo scandal to sell tickets

Spirit Airlines is good at going low, as in it excels at issuing low airfares and low tweets. On Sept. 3, the ultra-cheap airline attempted to cash in on the buzz around the leaked nudie celeb selfie scandal. As part of a plug of its risqué #BareFares campaign, the company blatantly poked fun at the naked news swirling about stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Rihanna and Kate Upton. Twitter users fired back in droves, calling Spirit out for displaying poor taste and poor timing.

Lesson: Trying to make a buck off of other people’s pain in times of crisis can irreversibly tarnish your brand reputation. Don’t ever be guilty of doing it.

4. When Sephora's typo turned a promotion into a profanity

What a difference a letter makes, and doesn’t Sephora know it. On Dec. 4, the French cosmetic giant made a glaring, beyond vulgar faux pas. It mistakenly hashtagged a tweet promoting an upcoming Australian Sephora store opening with the “uproariously profane” #C**tdownToBeauty. Oops! It was supposed to be #CountdownToBeauty. Oh, yeah, it was that bad, awful enough to practically upend the Twitterverse.

Lesson: Proofread, people. It’s that simple. It’s only your entire brand that’s at stake.  

3. When DiGiorno latched onto a domestic violence hashtag to sell pizza

There’s nothing funny about domestic violence. Obviously, making light of it is something no person or business should ever do. Yet DiGiorno did just that on Sept. 8 when the person behind the wheel of the popular pizza makers’ Twitter account latched onto the viral hashtag #WhyIStayed. The hashtag was being used by abuse victims in the wake of Ray Rice’s termination from the Baltimore Ravens.

DiGiorno, which made the sloppy PR blunder only two days after TMZ released a video of Rice punching his wife in the face in an elevator, yanked the tweet within 20 minutes of issuing it. The company apologized repeatedly on Twitter, saying it had been unaware of what the hashtag meant before posting. But it was too late. The erroneous tweet instantly and predictably spawned a barrage of angry backlash tweets, incriminating screenshot of the embarrassing mishap included.

Lesson: Know before you go. Take the time to research and understand what a hashtag really means, trending or not. If you don’t, you could misalign your business and, worse, appear callous, careless and offensive.

2. When the New England Patriots 'thank you' campaign went terribly wrong

To celebrate reaching 1 million followers on Twitter, the New England Patriots concocted an automated retweet campaign that sounded like a winner. The team would “say thanks” by auto-generating digital images of Patriots jerseys featuring people’s Twitter handles. To score one, people had to retweet a #1MillionPatriots-hashtagged tweet the team issued on Nov. 13.

Tons of fans retweeted it like crazy. The campaign was faring beautifully until someone created a Twitter account with an insanely offensive name and then retweeted the Patriots. The outcome? A seriously inappropriate, incredibly offensive Twitter handle spilled across a digital version of a Patriots jersey, which was then retweeted by the team. It was anything but a PR touchdown. It was a major fumble.

Lesson: Don’t auto-generate content on Twitter, especially not based on others’ content, which you certainly can’t control. Blending auto-created content with your branding risks associating your brand with something or someone you or others deem undesirable. It’s playing with fire and, chances are, you’ll get burned.

1. When U.S. Airways accidentally tweeted an extremely graphic porn pic

Talk about NSFW. On April 14, US Airways accidentally sent out the worst brand tweet of the year, if not the worst in the history of Twitter. It was so jaw-droppingly sexually explicit that we can’t even fully describe it here.

Twitter’s most graphic corporate PR crisis began rather innocently. A frustrated US Airways customer tweeted to the airline -- surprise! -- about flight delays. In response, US Airways spit out the usual apology tweets. The customer fired back with more complaint tweets. Then the airline came back with a standard, mollifying we-welcome-your-feedback tweet, only it wasn’t really standard it at all. It inexplicably included an eye-popping hardcore porn pic. Ahem, let’s just say it involved an airplane-shaped adult “toy” and a woman. The deeply offensive stunner stayed live online for all of an hour. Yeah, that long. Long enough for kids to bump into it and, boy, did they ever.

In the end, US Airways issued a pretty weaksauce, crisis-downplaying tweet. And, apparently by some miracle (more like mistake, in our opinion), did not fire the employee responsible for the lewd tweet.  

Lesson: Slow way the heck down and pay obsessive-compulsively close attention every single time you tweet on behalf of your brand. Or, if someone else is in charge of tweeting for you, make sure you completely trust them and they’re almost excessively cautious. Whoops, we’re sorry doesn’t even begin to erase such egregious, unforgettable mistakes. Don’t make them in the first place.


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Edition: October 2016

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