#FAIL: The 10 biggest marketing mistakes in Twitter history

At Ink Tank Media, we’ve created half a dozen viral Twitter accounts with over half a million followers. It’s this Twitter expertise that helped our co-founder, Joel Willans publish Finland’s most popular ever viral tweet with an incredible 135 000 retweets.  Consequently, we know first hand how Twitter can revolutionize how brands connect with fans and consumers, helping them add a more personal touch, spread news quicker and hit it big with viral campaigns. Unfortunately for some brands, Twitter has also opened the door for more mistakes and bigger blunders that can make their way around the internet in a matter of minutes.

The old adage of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is changing thanks to Twitter and other social media channels. Things can quickly turn sour for brands that aren’t meticulous about how and what they post online, resulting in negative attention and loss of followers and sales. One errant click, typo, or user account mix-up can damage reputations. Check out these 10 examples of PR and marketing mistakes that happened on Twitter — remember, the internet never forgets.

1. Twitter Q&A sessions gone wrong

Twitter is a great place for public figures to engage with their fans through Q&A sessions. Unfortunately, it’s also a great place to connect with people who aren’t fans. Just ask Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James, who got more than she bargained for during a recent publicity stunt. Twitter users skewered everything from her writing style to her use of questionable themes:

EL James Twitter

Not to be outdone by E.L. James, Louisiana governor/GOP candidate/exorcism expert Bobby Jindal got a taste of Twitter’s wit during his own Q&A. As one of the least popular governors in recent history, it seems that his team most certainly does think all publicity is good publicity. In any case, the #AskBobby hashtag produced pure comedy gold.

AskBobby Twitter

2. #MyNYPD

It’s a mystery why a police department infamous for brutality would think it’s a fantastic idea to begin a hashtag asking for heart-warming stories from Twitter users about their experiences with New York’s “finest”. But that’s exactly what the NYPD did. Needless to say, things backfired…brutally.

MyNYPD Twitter

3. Kenneth Cole’s #Cairo tweet

Hashtags are useful for following trending topics and important news. It is, however, in bad taste to appropriate hashtags related to serious world events such as, say, the 2011 protests in Cairo. Designer Kenneth Cole did just that, using the trending #Cairo in an attempt to promote his brand. A non-apology was issued shortly after, but Cole has since repeated this “blunder” in a variety of ways.


Kenneth Cole Cairo Tweet


4. Vodafone is “going after beaver”

While Cole’s #Cairo was intentional, the other side of the offensive tweet coin is the accidental blunder. Whether it’s due to tweeting from the wrong account or a disgruntled employee, brands stand to take some hefty backlash when someone tweets things that haven’t been cleared by PR. VodafoneUK experienced this first-hand in 2010 when an employee sent out this Tweet from the official account:



5. Oreo kindly replies to all of their followers

To err is human, but sometimes technology can dole out blunders all on its own. Especially when using auto-reply features. Oreo discovered last year that while auto-reply features can help to make communication with fans quicker and easier, it can also complicate things. Followers of Oreo noticed this heart-felt response to Twitter user F*CKINGN*GGER, and soon brought it to the cookie company’s attention:

Oreo Tweet

6. Research in Motion wants to give you #rimjobs

This one makes perfect sense, but it just goes to show that sometimes it’s worth looking at a hashtag from all angles before using it. Take for example Research in Motion, or RIM, who decided to use #rimjobs to promote job openings on Twitter. If you don’t know what a rim job is, feel free to Google it. Just not at work.

7. Who wouldn’t want to go to an anal bum party?

Singer Susan Boyle’s team gave us another example of a poorly-constructed tweet when they used #susanalbumparty to promote her album party. The hashtag was quickly changed to #SusanBoylesAlbumParty, but alas, it was too late. #susanalbumparty will certainly be remembered in the annals of Twitter as one of the most giggle-worthy blunders of all time.

8. Celeb Boutique’s #Aurora misuse

Before using a trending hashtag, it’s common sense to find out why that particular hashtag is hot at the moment. Celeb Boutique made this blunder when they decided to ride on the coat-tails of the trending #Aurora, using it to promote a dress — immediately after the tragic theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado.

Celeb Boutique Aurora

9. Tesco hits the hay

In 2013, Tesco was faced with a scandal when they were discovered to be sneaking horse meat into beef burgers. Like many other brands, the British grocery retailer made use of helpful apps that schedule tweets in advance — a handy thing, when used correctly. Unfortunately for Tesco, one of the pre-scheduled tweets didn’t go over so well in the midst of their horse meat debacle.

Tesco tweet

10. US Airways shows their love for airplanes

Mistakes happen, but sometimes those mistakes can cause global embarrassment for well-known brands. Take US Airways, who accidentally tweeted a pornographic image involving a woman and a toy plane in response to a customer. They explained in an apology that the mishap occurred when the image somehow got attached to their response after capturing the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. If you’re curious to see the very NSFW image, you can Google it when you Google #rimjobs. We know you will.

There you have it, 10 examples that prove just how unforgiving Twitter can be when it comes to PR blunders. Whether it’s innocent accidents or simply bad taste, it’s incredibly easy to make a public faux pas in this age driven by social media. Brands might not be too happy with it, but it sometimes makes for good entertainment!

Kathleen Harris Helsinki 2Originally from the United States, Kathleen Harris is a Digital Content Producer at Ink Tank Media in Helsinki, Finland. When she’s not researching and writing the articles that you read here, she enjoys reading, binge-watching TV series, and gaming. You can follow her out on Twitter.