Twitter Fail

How some of the world’s most recognisable brands can teach us a lesson in avoiding a social media fail

Freshwater’s Simone Turner discusses the potential pitfalls of not having a social media strategy, and how even some of the world’s biggest brands have got it wrong in spectacular style.

I’m sure I don’t need to highlight what an impact social media has had on our everyday lives, during the last few years. One of the main reasons for its meteorical success has been its accessibility – from the average Joe on the street to A-list celebs and major international brands, everyone is able to get their point across, to voice their uncensored opinion to the entire world, like never before. All of us now have access to this one mighty cyber-universe where brands and customers, celebrities and fans, world leaders and their citizens can communicate with each other, no holds barred.

For some major organisations, however, this new found platform of communicating with clientele has clearly left them a bit flustered, with some of the world’s most recognisable brands delivering their own lessons on why no one cannot afford to take your eyes off the ball when it comes to social media.


Lesson number 1 – It pays to be self-aware

Just because you are online, it doesn’t mean you can forget who you are in the real world, and it’s always worth giving yourself a quick reality check before your oh-so-friendly, innovative social media campaign comes back to bite you in the bottom. Banking giant JP Morgan illustrated this perfectly when they decided to host a live Q & A with some of their senior executives, asking followers to tweet #AskJPM for advice on leadership and careers. And tweet they did - 18,669 responded in just 24 hours, but the reaction was not quite what the bank had hoped for, with some of the most scathing responses being; ‘Did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success? #AskJPM’, ‘What’s it like working with Mexican drug cartels? Do they tip? #AskJPM’ and ‘Can I have my house back? #AskJPM’. After a series of scandals including bribery and corruption and mortgage-related allegations, JP Morgan had made the mistake of ignoring their current PR woes and general public opinion of the company, making them appear even more arrogant and out-of-touch than before. The words ‘shovel’ and ‘hole’ spring to mind.

Other brands who seriously misjudged their public profile include Waitrose, who asked their followers to use the hashtag #WaitroseReasons to share their motivations for shopping at the up-market store. The PR team responsible were clearly unaware of some people’s ‘snobbish’ perception of the brand - that was until they received replies including ‘I shop at Waitrose because…I don’t like being surrounded by poor people’, ‘I shop at Waitrose because the toilet paper is made from 24ct gold thread’ and ‘I shop at Waitrose because Tesco don’t stock unicorn food’.

The simple lesson here is not to underestimate the power of the people – if you are laying out a platform for them to share their opinions and feelings towards your brand, prepare yourself for the fact that you may not like what you’re going to hear. Also pay attention to the timing of your campaign – what might have seemed like a good idea in the team brainstorm two months ago might not be such a good one now.

Lesson number 2 – Always remember who has the keys

When handing over the responsibility of social media management to an employee, you are basically putting the reputation of your brand in to that person’s hands. The main trouble with that is that at the end of the day – we are all human. We all have good and bad days, we all have the capacity to get frustrated with our employers, or equally to have a momentary lapse in concentration, as these companies found out to their detriment:

The world first heard about record store HMV’s mass-redundancies from its own (presumably now former) staff members, as they effectively live-streamed their own sacking from the company Twitter account, kicking things off with ‘’We’re tweeting live from HR where we’re all being fired! Exciting!!”. However, at least we know that the Marketing Director did eventually clock-on, through a further tweet stating “Just overheard our Marketing Director (he’s staying, folks) ask ‘How do I shut down Twitter?’”.

Another globally-recognisable brand also fell victim to good old-fashioned human error when an employee of Red Cross accidently tweeted ‘Ryan found two more 4 bottle packs of Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch beer...when we drink we do it right #gettingslizzered’, from the company account rather than his personal one. A very red-faced, Red Cross, did later apologise for the tweet.

Whilst we all make mistakes, you can protect your brand as much as possible by keeping the number of employees with password details down to a minimum, and making sure that when people leave the company, the passwords get changed ASAP.


Lesson number 3 – Remember that social media never sleeps

As more and more of our world becomes ‘open 24/7’ (first supermarkets, now gyms and even your local Subway), you can no longer afford to switch off at 5.30pm and presume your customers do too. When you step on to the social media platform, you are partaking in a 24 hour global conversation, and if you fall asleep on the job, you run the risk of falling perilously behind.

By now I’m sure most businesses have discovered the wonders of Hootsuite and Tweet Deck, and are giving themselves a pat on the back for uncovering the joys of the scheduled Tweet. “Amazing”, we thought – “now we can have a 24 hour presence, without having to rope someone in to do the night shift”. Just ask Tesco how that worked out for them:

At the height of last year’s infamous ‘horsemeat scandal’, Tesco tweeted the following from their account ‘It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay!’. According to Tesco the tweet had been scheduled several days earlier – a pretty unfortunate consequence, that, despite responding with a prompt apology, had already been witnessed by 60,000+ people who quickly contributed to it becoming viral.

Whilst scheduled tweets and auto-responses might seem like great time-saving ideas, it’s worth remembering that in principle they go against much of what social media is about – connecting people and sharing up-to-the-minute news - which makes for an angry response when companies get it wrong. American Airlines, for example, responded to an angry customer’s tweet branding them the ‘largest and sh*#@tiest’ airline in the world’ with a standard auto-response: ‘Thanks for your support! We look forward to a bright future as the #newAmerican’. The fallout from this was pretty much universal mocking of the company on Twitter, resulting in negative coverage in the main stream media.

What we cannot underestimate when we put ourselves out there in the hope of connecting better with our audience and improving customer service, is that there are no shortcuts – and still no substitute for a real-life human being. That may sound quite shocking in a world that seems to be hell-bent on decreasing the opportunity for face-to-face interaction, but it seems there really is no replacement for genuine, meaningful conversations. And whilst social media seems like an easy, cost-effective way to get your message out there, if you fail to invest enough time and thought, the costs can be disastrous.


Freshwater offers bespoke social media training courses, strategy development and implementation  for all sectors including health, transport, property, energy, consumer, government and not-for-profit. For more information on this, and other courses please email


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Impact Report 2017

Impact report 2017