The Top 13 Most Embarrassing Brand Twitter Fails Of All Time

Why you must be pre­pared for any rep­u­ta­tion-wreck­ing sce­nario that comes your brand’s way.

Danny Goodwin By Danny Goodwin from Momentology. Join the discussion » 0 comments

With more than 300 mil­lion month­ly active users, Twit­ter is still a bour­geon­ing social media chan­nel where some of the world’s top brands go to com­mu­ni­cate direct­ly with their audi­ence and car­ry out key busi­ness func­tions like cus­tomer ser­vice, pub­lic rela­tions, cri­sis man­age­ment, and much more. But not every­one gets it right.

Let’s look at some of the most embar­rass­ing Twit­ter fails of all time and the lessons we can learn from them.

1. Twitter Leaks Inside Information

Twit­ter CFO Antho­ny Noto acci­den­tal­ly broad­cast inside infor­ma­tion that appeared to be refer­ring to an acqui­si­tion and was prob­a­bly meant to be a direct mes­sage instead.


The tweet, which was lat­er delet­ed, is a big no-no, par­tic­u­lar­ly for pub­lic com­pa­nies where infor­ma­tion like this could impact stock and vio­late things like reg­u­la­tion FD.

But even more embar­rass­ing was the fact that the Twit­ter faux pas was made by a Twit­ter employ­ee, which many thought high­light­ed some of the user expe­ri­ence flaws the social plat­form had.

Les­son learned: Get your social media poli­cies in place and ensure exec­u­tives and pubic-fac­ing offi­cers are trained and up-to-speed on how to use the plat­forms – espe­cial­ly if you work for the com­pa­ny that cre­at­ed the social media plat­form!

2. The New England Patriots Auto-Tweet Racism

Tech­nol­o­gy can give us min­utes back in our day by stream­lin­ing social media efforts. What it can’t do, how­ev­er, is exer­cise dis­cre­tion. The Patri­ots want­ed to cel­e­brate 1 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter by thank­ing indi­vid­ual fol­low­ers through auto­gen­er­at­ed cus­tom images with a person’s Twit­ter han­dle.

They didn’t think about the fact that there could be off-the-charts nasty con­se­quences (with their sig­na­ture on it nonethe­less): patriots-tweet The Patri­ots delet­ed, then regret­ted the tweet and blamed it on tech­nol­o­gy.

Les­son learned: Make sure you have checks and bal­ances in place with the tech­nol­o­gy you use to stream­line social media. If you haven’t audit­ed your set­tings in a while, now is the time to do it.

3. DiGiorno Real-Time Marketing Goes Real Wrong

There’s no doubt the pow­er that real time social mar­ket­ing can have (remem­ber how Adi­das killed it dur­ing the World Cup?). But if you’re going to insert your­self into a con­ver­sa­tion on Twit­ter, you bet­ter be damn sure you know what you’re get­ting into.

That hash­tag – #why­is­tayed – is about domes­tic vio­lence and emerged after head­lines of a Bal­ti­more Ravens run­ning back punch­ing his then-fiancée. The piz­za brand said it was real­ly sor­ry and didn’t know what the hash­tag was about before it jumped in.

Les­son learned: Make sure your real-time social par­tic­i­pa­tion is appro­pri­ate in all cas­es. Not every head­line or trend­ing hash­tag will be a good oppor­tu­ni­ty, so have a plan in place to quick­ly eval­u­ate them before becom­ing part of the con­ver­sa­tion.

4. Cosby’s Meme Debacle

Who knows why Bill Cosby’s peo­ple decid­ed a social media cam­paign that gave the pub­lic free reign to mock the come­di­an was a good idea amongst alle­ga­tions of rape. But they did it any­way.

First, a call for memes with the hash­tag #cos­bymeme appeared one fine day on Twit­ter:


Looks like Cosby’s peo­ple prob­a­bly hoped for some­thing along the lines of this:


But what they got was this:


And many, many oth­ers like it. The meme gen­er­a­tor and orig­i­nal tweet were tak­en down not too long after it went up.

Les­son learned: In the face of a PR cri­sis, brands need to care­ful­ly craft their com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies even if what they are say­ing has noth­ing to do with the cri­sis itself. In those times, the world is watch­ing more close­ly than ever.

5. Jenny Craig Hashtag Fail

Jen­ny Craig spon­sored a radio show with a con­tro­ver­sial per­son­al­i­ty, and peo­ple weren’t hap­py about it. As a response, Jen­ny Craig took to Twit­ter to try to defend itself and change the con­ver­sa­tion by cre­at­ing a hash­tag that end­ed up fail­ing:


With­in a day, Jen­ny Craig decid­ed to pull the hash­tag and the spon­sor­ship.

Les­son learned: When you attach a celebri­ty fig­ure to your brand, you also some­times attach all the bag­gage that comes with it. Make sure the celeb tru­ly aligns with your brand’s val­ues. And before react­ing to strong opin­ions on social media, fig­ure out what your audi­ence real­ly wants.

6. Chrysler’s F‑Bomb

Even though most peo­ple would prob­a­bly get a kick out the fol­low­ing tweet, big brands like Chrysler can’t mess around with casu­al­ly drop­ping f‑bombs:


Turns out, the Twit­ter account was man­aged by an agency that decid­ed to can the per­son who sent it out. Beyond just a dirty mouth, Chrysler said the state­ment did­n’t align with the company’s sen­ti­ment of Detroit.

Les­son learned: When big brands hire out­side to man­age social, it’s key to ensure they’re well versed on all the company’s mes­sag­ing and social media poli­cies so they can act as an exten­sion of your in-house team.

7. KitchenAid Accidentally Gets Into Politics

Brands and pol­i­tics don’t mix. But some­times opin­ions slip – and in this case, it was report­ed­ly the opin­ion of a KitchenAid employ­ee who acci­den­tal­ly rant­ed via the company’s Twit­ter han­dle, and not their per­son­al Twit­ter account.


The com­pa­ny prompt­ly removed the tweet and issued an apol­o­gy explain­ing what had hap­pened.


Les­son learned: Acci­dents hap­pen – but maybe you should make absolute­ly cer­tain that your social media team’s per­son­al accounts have com­plete­ly sep­a­rate access points than the busi­ness accounts.

8. Vodafone’s Homophobic Quip

Some­times social slip ups aren’t by acci­dent at all. A Voda­fone cus­tomer ser­vice rep decid­ed to take their opin­ion to Twit­ter, and this hap­pened:


The com­pa­ny sus­pend­ed the employ­ee and issued an apol­o­gy.

Les­son learned: In this day and age, employ­ees who con­tribute a company’s social media are typ­i­cal­ly well trained, but there is always the threat of a dis­grun­tled team mem­ber or wise guy air­ing griev­ances on social. Be sure to refresh staff on the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of doing so.

9. US Airways’ Unfortunate Porn

Oh US Air­ways, this is bad. In response to a cus­tomer ser­vice issue on Twit­ter, the air­line some­how tweet­ed a porno­graph­ic pho­to along with its mes­sage to the user:

US Airways tweet

How the heck this hap­pened we’ll nev­er know, but the air­line said some­thing to the effect of they were attempt­ing to flag an inap­pro­pri­ate pic­ture on Twit­ter and inad­ver­tent­ly copied the link and then unin­ten­tion­al­ly past­ed it into a tweet.

Les­son learned: Always, always proof your social media updates before they go out. Some social man­age­ment tools have pre­view func­tions you can look at pri­or to hit­ting send. You might even con­sid­er hav­ing two-lev­els of review on all social updates before they hit the feeds.

10. Bank Of America’s Robotic Response

Twit­ter has become a viable chan­nel for both cus­tomer rela­tions and PR. This direct line to a com­pa­ny means that cor­po­ra­tions must be able to respond to all types of mes­sages from the pub­lic.

When one per­son hit the streets to con­front Bank of Amer­i­ca on ille­gal fore­clo­sures, they were chased away by police and took to Twit­ter with the sto­ry:


But the canned respons­es com­ing from the finan­cial insti­tu­tion looked more like robots than empa­thet­ic peo­ple:


But it wasn’t robots; in fact, it was the peo­ple who ran the social media account. Oops.

Les­son learned: Hav­ing the right peo­ple respond in the best way pos­si­ble for dif­fer­ent types of sce­nar­ios is key. Have your team flag cer­tain mes­sages that fall into var­i­ous buck­ets of poten­tial prob­lems – like cus­tomer ser­vice or pub­lic rela­tions – and make sure that no one responds with­out a strat­e­gy. Dis­cred­it­ing your audience’s feel­ings with a patron­iz­ing response is prob­a­bly the worst thing you can do.

11. Delta’s Geography Lesson

I get it: many of us haven’t pol­ished up on our geog­ra­phy since high school, but if your job is to fly peo­ple to places all over the world, your job is to under­stand the coun­tries you oper­ate in.

What start­ed out as a tweet with good inten­tions, con­grat­u­lat­ing the USA team in the World Cup, turned sour real quick when the air­line found out there are, in fact, no giraffes in Ghana.


The fun kept com­ing when Delta respond­ed with an apol­o­gy that had a typo – refer­ring to the tweet as “pre­cious” instead of what it prob­a­bly meant: “pre­vi­ous.”


Les­son learned: While you could chalk this one up to a bad judg­ment call and lack of atten­tion to detail, it’s prob­a­bly best to hire com­mu­ni­ty man­agers for inter­na­tion­al brands who will think glob­al­ly when it comes to a world­wide audi­ence.

12. Oprah’s Endorsement Fail

Does any­one real­ly believe any­more that celebs use the prod­ucts they endorse? If so, they were prob­a­bly dis­ap­point­ed with this prod­uct endorse­ment fail when Oprah Win­frey tweet­ed about how much she loved her Microsoft tablet … from her iPad:


Les­son learned: If your brand has an influ­encer who is often tasked with review­ing or mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions on prod­ucts, make sure it tru­ly aligns with that person’s lifestyle and view­point (at least pub­licly!). This may have been a case of peo­ple read­ing too much into it, but think about how absurd it would be for a celebri­ty who endors­es Pep­si to be wear­ing a Cola-Cola shirt at the same time.

13. FAFSA: Pop Culture Gone Wrong

When com­pa­nies can align with pop cul­ture, it can some­times yield great results – espe­cial­ly when humor is involved. But some­times, it’s not so great. Like when you make a joke that’s not only insen­si­tive, but also makes your tar­get audi­ence – the peo­ple that direct­ly engage with you – feel bad about the fact that they need you.

Stu­dent loan ser­vicer FAFSA used a punch line from the pop­u­lar movie “Brides­maids” to try to elic­it folks to file for stu­dent aid:

fafsa tweet

Let’s be real: Kris­ten Wiig kills it in that scene, but the recep­tion of that tweet was pret­ty much crick­ets chirp­ing. FAFSA took the tweet down and apol­o­gized.

Les­son learned: When engag­ing in cur­rent pop cul­ture, make absolute­ly sure that it aligns with your brand in a pos­i­tive light. If you were sell­ing make­up, for exam­ple, you wouldn’t tell peo­ple they were ugly so they’d bet­ter buy your prod­uct. Plus, some jokes are just bet­ter left untouched alto­geth­er.

We’re only human. We do the best we can to nav­i­gate the com­plex­i­ties of the social world today. Some­times we excel and oth­er times, we fail – hor­ri­bly. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Web nev­er for­gets – even though we may be able to for­give brands for their social fail­ings. That’s all the more rea­son for brands to be bet­ter pre­pared for any sce­nario that may come their way.

Danny Goodwin

Written by Danny Goodwin

Managing Editor, Momentology

Danny Goodwin is the former Managing Editor of Momentology. Previously, he was the editor of Search Engine Watch, where he was in charge of editing, content strategy, and writing about search industry news.

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