Twitter Automation Gone Horribly Wrong
So, here’s the skinny: The Patriots thought it would be a good idea to use automation to thank followers for retweeting a promoted tweet by replying with their @handle and then super-imposing that same name over a photo of a Patriots’ jersey.
At the time, it probably sounded like a great marketing idea – and it might have been if someone had not created a Twitter username with a racial slur (technically, there’s a lower case L in there to avoid triggering spam filters) and RT’d their tweet.
As a result, the Patriots’ twitter account automatically thanked them and before the Patriots knew it, a photo with the very offensive racial slur (@ihatenLggerss) over the jersey had been tweeted out.
Even after the tweet was sent out, it managed to sit on the Patriots’ Twitter feed for more than an hour without being touched.
During that time, it kept racking up retweets. Ultimately, the Patriots apologized for the tweet being sent out.
While, unlike other brands that have accidentally stumbled into dangerous territory, no one at the Patriots actually sent out such an offense tweet, it still made them look bad. Very, very bad.
Why It Happened
So, why did this even happen in the first place?
Whenever possible, I’m a fan of automation, but simply put, this was just not a good idea.
Given the sheer volume of followers able to participate in this campaign, this is not something that the Patriots should have done.
There was too much risk that something could go wrong, which is what ultimately happened.
Someone failed to think it through and now the Pats are yet another social media cautionary tale.
What They Did Right
While this certainly ended up being an epic fail on the part of the Patriots, I have to give the team kudos for their good intention.
The football team was trying to find a way to personalize their interaction with thousands of fans, which is no small feat.
Even without this error, there is a possibility that the campaign would not have had the desired effect because usually any type of automatic response still seems, well, automatic.
And automatic is usually not perceived as genuine nor authentic.
The Pats would have been better off publishing a list of all Twitter usernames (after they’ve been thoroughly screened!) on their Facebook page or website as a way of connecting with and thanking their users.
Learning from Their Mistakes
If there is one thing that can be learned from this latest social media mistake it is the importance of taking the time to slow down and think everything through.
Even though an idea may sound great at the time, ask yourself whether it can be exploited. If so, you can rest assured that someone out there will find a way to do it.
Try running the idea by multiple people outside of your marketing and PR departments to determine whether the idea holds the potential for being exploited. An outside perspective can very often be more objective and therefore more helpful in preventing situations like this example.
Some companies also opt not to include their Twitter handle or even a variation of their company name in their hashtag. If your brand is not contained in a hashtag, it makes it more difficult to turn against you.
What’s your take?
Have you been a victim of a hashtag promotion gone wrong? How do you think the Patriots could have avoided this situation while still expressing thanks to fans? avoided this situation while still expressing thanks to fans?