social media mistakes

Is it ever ok for social media professionals to Twitter-jack?

If you paid attention to the usual ad frenzy around the Superbowl, you may have noticed that Coca Cola had to suspend its #MakeItHappy automated social campaign after a prank from Gawker had the brand inadvertently tweeting out several lines from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Nationalist propaganda, hiding in the form of a cute hamburger...

Nationalist propaganda, hiding in the form of a cute hamburger…

We’ve all seen it happen. A brand launches a playful, social campaign, uses above the line media to drive use of the associated #tag, and – if they’ve hit the right mood and with a dose of luck – the general public gets involved. However, at the same time, such promotion also attracts the unwanted attention of internet trolls, hiding behind the cloak of an ISP or anonymous user name. For brands that have both loyal advocates but their fair share of critics, it’s a Catch 22: the more high profile the social media campaign, the more open they are to sabotage.


McDonalds , Burger King, Qantas and Heinz remain as stark reminders of how hash-jacking, Twitter-jacking and Twitter-hacking can turn an innocent campaign in to a disaster.

In Coke’s case, the company launched a 60-second commercial during the Superbowl ‘focusing on the importance of injecting happiness into the internet’ and encouraged people to mark negative tweets with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. The brand then turned those words into cute art images using ASCII lettering code. To deal with large volumes of engagement, Coke also offered an automated response using a set number of stock ‘happy’ images and positive copy .
Gawker quickly realised that expletives and a few contraband words like Pepsi were the only barriers to getting a response. In fact, they even noticed one Tweet that turned into a picture containing white nationalist propaganda. CueTwitter bot @MeinCoke – and Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto being transformed into art.

Gawker’s editor Max Read used the Gawker website and social channels to amplify news of their hash jack, publicly shaming Coke in the process. It wasn’t long before Coke halted the campaign.

Now, it’s easy to blame Coke for failing to see it coming. But it’s also disappointing to see influential publishers promoting trolling – especially when cyber-bullying is having such a powerful negative effect in wider society.
Sure, there is nothing wrong with an innovative, cheeky or creative social idea designed to ride another brand campaign’s coat tails, especially amongst competitors. But not only did Gawker publically destroy Coke’s campaign for no good reason bar its own self-promotion, it did so with subject matter that more or less promoted genocide.
Brands should be setting a precedent in the ethical use of social media. As the technology era matures, cyber-law is slowly evolving to become more fit for purpose. However, until the public themselves take responsibility for good social media behaviour, we won’t see real change.

And while advertisers and agencies can all have a private giggle when a social media campaign backfires, there is no need to draw added attention to a mistake. It is even worse for another brand to intentionally derail a campaign. Otherwise, as digital and social media professionals, we are ultimately paving the way for our own demise. Campaign-jacking, driven by ill will and enhanced by media spend, could take down almost any idea, however good the concept or strong the community management.

Stones and glass houses come to mind.


The Pitfalls of Going Viral

When a company gets the use of social media right they are seen as a brand that understands how to speak to their consumers in the modern advertising landscape. But we all know social media is a tricky subject – the more exposure a campaign gets the bigger chance it can backfire – if careful consideration has not been given to the potential pitfalls.

Both industry aficionados and the general public alike should be familiar with the ‘First Kiss’ video that went viral on YouTube last week.

Now viewed over 58 million times – it later emerged the seemingly innocent video was indeed a brand ploy. Had this been appropriately stated in the opening credits of the video or at least even clarified as the video finished, I doubt the public would have been so intent on sharing it.

Yet the creators of the video pleaded ignorance – claiming they never expected the video to become such a success. The video’s director said the following:

“A friend called me up and said ‘You’re on the front page of Reddit,’ ” Ms. Pilieva said. “And I didn’t understand what that meant.” She had never heard of Reddit, a website known for minting viral hits.

But is that really an excuse? By creating an asset for a brand and then uploading it to YouTube you  clearly hope that it gains traction. It is rather hypocritical to then claim you never expected success and hence the spotlight once it emerges you did not stick to basic social media and advertising guidelines.

It’s a tough one – as we all want to believe brands can get social media right and if so, relish the success they deserve when a video is shared, parodied and so on. But having worked in social for over 6 years and being well aware of the required admissions bloggers and brands have to make when giving ‘influenced’ opinions I have to say that I don’t think sorry is good enough here.

On a happy note – it could also be that really people just don’t care where your brand or its collateral comes from, as long as it is buzz worthy. Proven in a sad, yet insightful trick played on obnoxious festival goers by Jimmy Kimmel at SXSW.

The moral of this post. It’s best to always tell the truth. You will get found out in the end and even faster when social media is involved!