Careless Tweets that Became PR Nightmares #DontLetThisHappenToYou

November 14, 2014 Matt Allison: Founder, Chief Strategy Officer

Anyone who reads Buzzfeed knows that once in a while a Tweet can go awry, and in a flash, a brand or a politician is made a laughing stalk. (Just ask the unfortunately named Andrew Weiner.) So today, we are taking a look at the many different ways a Tweet can wreak PR havoc. Hopefully being forewarned is forearmed and you can avoid the fate that befell these organizations. 

Oblivious Timing

This Tweet from the NRA might not have been so bad if it hadn’t happened just hours after a gunman killed 13 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.


The backlash was swift and stern. The NRA apologized, explaining that the person who issued the Tweet was unaware of the events in Colorado. The take away here is that your social media managers must have their ear to the ground and understand the context into which the Tweet will be released.

In a less dramatic example, it is not uncommon for brands to have social media people who are unaware of customer impacting service outages. It isn’t good to be Tweeting great things about your company when your system is down, for example. Also don’t forget about pre-scheduled Tweets. If the context changes, review anything that you have scheduled to go out.

Personal vs. Work Account - Oops

This is probably the most common way that social media managers lose their jobs. The person who posted this gem on behalf of Kitchen Aid, meant to send it from their personal account.


Tweeting about the President’s dead grandma, just isn’t going to end well. Of course, we question this person’s taste level, even if it was intended for their personal following, but the fundamental mistake is easy to make. Be sure that you have some check and balance in place if you are going to be Tweeting for both business and pleasure. You might decide not to Tweet to both accounts on the same device, or to always log out of Twitter between activities.

Hashtag Hijack

I think McDonald’s had their heart in the right place, but alas the hashtag #MDStories, which was intended to contain a conversation about farmers talking about McDonald’s food quality, started quite a different one.



Anytime you put yourself out there, you are open to criticism, but we think someone at McDonald's should have seen this coming. People do love McDonald's food, so they might have done better with something like #HeartShamrockShake.

The Image File that Should Not Be

The US Airways rep who responded to a customer complaint was so close to nailing it. They apologized and offered a course for a remedy. Knowing that Tweets with images are more likely to be retweeted, they uploaded a pic. The. Wrong. Pic.



We’ve spared you the visual, but it is pornographic image of woman performing a sex act with a model Boeing 777. If US Airway’s goal was to become the top trending topic on Twitter that day, they succeeded. I don’t think we need to explain how to avoid this mistake.

Misunderstanding Your Audience

In another case of, “Didn’t you see this coming?” JPMorgan intended to give college students the opportunity to communicate with a senior executive, and communicate they did.


In less than 6 hours after the original post, the Twitterverse contained 6000 taunting tweets. 

Hopeless Hashtag

The Dallas Cowboys recently traveled to the UK to participate in an event at Wembley Stadium. In a laudable attempt to drum up excitement and make it easy for fans to follow the team’s trip abroad, the Cowboys came up with the hashtag, #CowboysUK. The internet quickly realized that this might be interpreted as #CowboySUK. Apparently, many Twitter users concur.


It is a good idea to think about how your hashtag might be interpreted by someone on less friendly terms with your brand.

Some people may think that typing out 140 characters is easy, or that a single Tweet can’t do much damage, but that simply isn’t the case. Those 140 characters can cause hours of backpedaling, apologizing and glowing red in the face. PR firms and brand professionals are wise to have, and adhere, to a formal social media policy, with the first rule being, “Do no harm.” We also recommend a strong brand reputation monitoring solution so that you can quickly delete, apologize, and control the damage if anything unfortunate ever does get past your team.

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