Chainsawing zombies to keep your followers

The end is near! Hoards of brain-eating zombies roam through the streets chasing after their next target. Like vultures, they prey on the weak and look to devour the next vulnerable victim in sight. So you are left with the dilemma of every survivalist: Should I stay put or risk it all by going out there?

Staying indoors, in the safety of your home and consuming all the available resources is probably the simplest and safest option, but it might not be a sustainable one and eventually will most likely leave you starving to death. On the other hand, making your way through zombie masses is a huge risk to take, but it’s your best chance for survival.

Do these scenarios sound familiar to you? Well, social media can sometimes be a real zombie apocalypse! An honest mistake can make your brand’s hard-earned followers turn their back on you and attract haters like zombies out for brains.

To avoid a social media nightmare, some brands simply don’t connect enough with their followers in an effort to play it safe and fail to do the minimum to ensure their own survival, quite similar to those who stayed at home avoiding the zombies and eventually starved to death, while others, desperate to gain attention, try to be heroes taking unnecessary risks in their way towards gaining followers, not unlike those who actually make it through the zombies by going out and killing a few. Unfortunately, they hardly end up unscathed, most get at least a very nasty scar.

We’ve all seen our fair share of brands fade and perish form known existence and we’ve also heard a dozen of success stories from well established brands. But I bet you’re probably wondering how some brands have successfully chainsawed their way out of brutal social damage!

Let’s look back at moments when well-known brands have been audacious enough to overstep their boundaries and things turned messy, but like the leading man in a horror movie, ultimately manage to make it alive to the end.

# 1.Tone Deaf Tweets

“The Tone Deaf error occurs when the official corporate Twitter account (or personal account of a high-ranking officer) throws up an air ball of a tweet that is outside customary social and societal norms.” says Jay Baer, President of Convince & Convert. “These types of Twitter mistakes are a bit more disconcerting, as you get into questions of appropriateness and poor listening.”

DiGiorno: Real-Time Marketing Goes Real Wrong

DiGiorno, a brand of frozen pizzas sold in the United States, decided to give it a go at real time marketing by jumping in on a trending topic on twitter with the tweet “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” But as Danny Goodwin, Managing Editor of Momentology, tells us: “If you’re going to insert yourself into a conversation on Twitter, you better be damn sure you know what you’re getting into.”

What DiGiorno failed to realize, was that the hashtag (#whyistayed) actually referred to the controversy surrounding Ray Rice’s (running back for the Baltimore Ravens) domestic abuse scandal. It was specifically used by women to discuss why they stayed in abusive and violent relationships.

After the instant backlash, the pizza brand was quick to delete the tweet and apologized by posting: “A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.” The brand also responded to dozens of Twitter users who were offended by the post. “Each response has been personalized and is clearly sincere, which is a nice reprieve from the usual copy-and-paste approach to dealing with bad PR in social.” adds Managing Editor of Digital for @Adweek, David Griner.

United Airlines: The Not So Friendly Skies

United Airlines or simply United, is the world’s largest airline when it comes to destinations. Its popular slogan reads: “Fly the Friendly Skies”. But things weren’t so friendly when the company entirely missed a costumer’s sarcasm and frustration when she tweeted: “Thanks to @unitedairlines I can finally watch that Frasier episode I missed in 1994.”

The airline quickly responded to that tweet by quoting the lyrics to the closing theme song of “Fraiser” (TV Show), “@dollarshort “…I hear the blues a-callin’, Tossed salad and scrambled eggs…” having completely ignored  her previous  5 angry tweets sent within the last minute.

The company proceeded to delete the tweet and publish another one to admit their mistake and offer an apology


Lesson to be learned: “Make sure your real-time social participation is appropriate in all cases.” Goodwin underlines. Always research to guarantee you’re really understanding the context of the hashtag, headline or post (trending or not) before replying or jumping into a conversation. “If you don’t, you could misalign your business and, worse, appear callous, careless and offensive.” adds Kim Lachance Shandrow, West Coast editor at


# 2. Pretending To Belong To A Group You Don’t Understand


“The biggest mistake brands and businesses continue to make is appropriating urban and youth culture as their own when they don’t do the work of understanding what their brand stands for and why it exists on its own and on Twitter. Young people — seemingly 90 percent of brands’ aspirational targets — can tell when someone non-native is trying to leverage their culture.” Michael Burch, Team Epiphany’s Social Media Director quoted in Business News Daily.

This recurring mistake happens because some marketers simply fail to understand their target audience and their brand’s relevance to it.

Blackberry (RIM):Too Bold!

Research In Motion Limited (RIM), a Canadian telecommunication and wireless equipment company known to the general public for developing the BlackBerry brand of smartphones and tablets had a real identity crisis in 2011, due to the dilemma of focusing their efforts towards their traditional market of corporations and business people or venturing towards attracting ordinary consumers. According to Phred Dvorak, Suzanne Vranica and Spencer E. Ante from The Wall Street Journal, an executive close to the company said at the time “there’s an internal war going on around the marketing message. Even the guys at the top don’t agree”.

Later that year on new year’s eve, the company asked their Blackberry twitter followers to submit their resolutions on how they planned to “Be Bold” in 2012. Looking at the resolutions and the data, majority patterns and categories emerged, so they decided to organize it and share the result through an infographic in a whole new and different approach that showed a quartet of cartoon characters which they intended to be fun.

The stunt could not have been more off target… “People took to Twitter and used the #BeBold hashtag to rail on RIM, and it got out of control quickly. The anti-RIM tweets were mostly limited to management criticism and sarcastic Blackberry jokes.” says Business Insider’s retail editor, Kim Bashin.

FAFSA: Pop Culture Gone Wrong

Federal Student Aid (FSA) an office of the U.S. Department of Education is the largest provider of student financial aid in the country and its purpose is to provide grants, loans & work-study funds to college and career school students who apply for eligibility using the Free Application for Student Aid, better known as FAFSA. This government office uses its Twitter account @FAFSA to inform, advise and answer any questions related to student financial aid, but seems clueless on how to relate with its audience.

Due to the fact that the FSA has a rather young audience, it often resorts to creative and witty content in an effort to align with pop culture, which can sometimes yield good results when properly done. But this office of the U.S. Department of Education went  definitely overboard when they used a punch line from a popular movie to try to evoke folks into filing for student aid.

“This @FAFSA tweet is what happens when your social media rep is great at analytics & terrible with culture.” tweeted writer Mikki Kendall, as one of the numerous reactions to this stunt. This bad joke managed to be insensitive to it’s target audience, making them feel bad for needing the assistance.

After the tweet succeeded attracting major criticism, the FSA proceeded to take it down and apologize. Dorie Nolt, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education labeled the incident as an “ill-conceived attempt at reaching students through social media.”

Lesson to be learned: Make sure your message aligns with your target audience. Research demographic and psychographic information so you can relate to your followers.

# 3. Failing To Keep A Consistent Brand Voice

In an attempt to appear interesting, some brands seem to forget to keep their voice intact. Everyday it becomes more and more frequent to see brands that have established themselves as traditional and serious, make “under the belt” jokes that are not very well taken by their usual following. “Keeping consistency in what you speak and tweet is a twitter branding tip you shouldn’t forget” recommends Swadhin Agrawal, Blogger and Freelance writer.

KLM: Adios Amigos! Hello Controversy!

Netherlands’ Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) is the oldest airline still operating under its original name. That by itself says a lot about the brand. This airline has been known for some time, as being very friendly and traditional.

In the last decade, KLM’s goal to maintain its edge in the airline industry has been sought  blending the positive aspects of its already well established image, namely its leadership, class, style and  allure with energy and a feminine touch,  trying to become more progressive, lively and  fresh to keep the brand modern and attractive, according to Fatima da Gloria de Sousa, Director of Communications and Corporate Identity for KLM. But this more human approach took a real dive while going off-topic in an attempt to amuse Twitter followers during the last World Cup tournament. “After the Netherlands team secured a controversial last-minute victory over Mexico in the World Cup, the company tweeted “Adios Amigos! #NEDMEX” with a photo that featured a caricature icon of a mustachioed, Mexican man in a sombrero.” as shows Nolan Feeney, reporter for TIME Magazine.

This off-topic tweet, lit the fuse for social media controversy. Quickly after it was published, a huge amount of outraged fans began tweeting and retweeting in anger, lead by rants of Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal who was gravely offended and vowed like many others to never to fly KLM ever again.

The airline replied shortly after, issuing a formal apology from KLM’s director general in North America, Marnix Fruitema, which read: “In the best of sportsmanship, we offer our heartfelt apologies to those who have been offended by the comment,”. KLM spokeswoman Lisette Ebeling Koning, added that it was meant to be a joke but the reaction was too negative.

This a fair warning for brands who are tempted to wander from their normal tone and make edgy jokes. In business it pays to be prudent and think twice.

FSA: Poor Is Not The Way To Go

Yes, it’s the @FAFSA tweet again! This tweet is wrong in so many ways that it fits as a perfect example for two of our categories.

The infamous tweet did not only fail to suit the intended audience, it also managed to send a message that completely strays from the office’s goals and “voice”. Nolt, added in her statement that the tweet was detrimental to their mission of opening doors of opportunity for every student and that they were reviewing their process for approving social media content to ensure it reflects the high standards of the U.S. Department of Education.

Lesson to be learned: Inconsistency in the voice of a  brand is detrimental. Followers expect the same tone and ‘personality’ from an account. Going off-topic or tweeting in a different tone can instantly alienate a brand’s following. When attempting humor one should always exercise extreme care.

# 4. Always Selling

Some companies are still trying to sell or promote at any cost on social media. People rarely respond to that. If a business wishes to keep a hold of it’s online reputation, it is inadvisable to talk with selling as the only goal. To convert fans into leads businesses need to aim towards increasing the value of their brands. Connecting to create engagement is the key to promote on Twitter and social media.

Spirit Airlines: Absolutely Shameless!

Spirit Airlines is an low-budget airline from the U.S.,  that is apparently as famous  for its low airfares as it is notorious for its low tweets. Back in 2014, the low-price airline attempted to cash in on the buzz around a leaked nude celebrity selfie scandal.

In its  #BareFares campaign, the company blatantly poked fun at  the numerous victims of an Apple security breach that compromised the accounts of up to 100 celebrities in a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, leaking a massive amount of private naked photos. Users from all across Tweeter fired back relentlessly against Spirit for what they believed to be a display of poor taste and bad timing.

The #BareFares campaign continues to this day, but Spirit has taken the scandal tie-in away from its ads. This is because the campaign was “not meant to be offensive” according to the airline, “We have a long history of taking major national news stories and tying them to our marketing. Most people think they are funny and accept them for what they are. We accept that a small group of people might not think the same way.” Spirit Airlines spokesperson Paul Berry told

Microsoft: A Total Disaster!

The Microsoft Corporation, commonly known as Microsoft, is an American multinational technology company that develops, manufactures, licenses, supports and sells computer software, consumer electronics and personal computers and services. This multinational owns and operates a web search engine called Bing that in its Twitter account offered to raise money for the victims of an earthquake in Japan by tweeting that it would give one dollar to Japan quake victims for every retweet it received up to $100,000.

Unfortunately the tweet was ill received by many Twitter users who felt the software giant was taking advantage of the misfortune of the people of Japan.  There was a quick and overwhelming reaction  against Bing.

It got to the point where someone started a  #fuckbing hashtag for people to use to bash the brand. Bing later apologized and donated the full $100,000.

But this is not the first time The Microsoft Corporation has been accused of trying to market other people’s misfortune. According to HLN,“The software giant’s UK PR team might not have considered the optics of this 2011 tweet” when they suggested people to buy one of Amy Winehouse’s song on Microsoft’s brand of digital media products and services Zune, shortly after she had died. “They later apologized, denying that the social media push to Zune was “commercially motivated.””

Lesson to be learned: “Trying to make a buck off of other people’s pain in times of crisis can irreversibly tarnish your brand reputation.” warns Lachance Shandrow. Curiously enough, people do tend to buy songs from the recently deceased, so companies should rather stick to making the songs available and use social media with extreme caution to pay homage to the recently departed and share the audience’s grief,  always refraining from promoting products or services in these sad times.

Social media is not a free advertising platform, brands must remember why people are there in the first place: to connect! So try connecting more and promote less, build trust and a real relationship instead exploiting grief to gain popularity or for an extra buck. People can see straight through that.

The Appropriate Response To These Fallouts

In almost all of the aforementioned twitter catastrophes shown today, you can see a clear pattern emerge which has served as the most effective escape route from what would most certainly be a social media massacre. Let’s review step by step the common factors that have kept these brands alive.

Step # 1. Acknowledge

Before taking any action, you’ll need to take a deep breath and think about how you want to react to the situation. A quick response is often necessary to avoid the problem getting bigger, so the most logical option is to delete the controversial tweet.

However, Lauren Dugan, marketing strategist and former founding editor of AllTwitter, tells us that when doing so, you might want to acknowledge you are deleting it, due to the fact that “considering the instant nature of Twitter, any offending tweet will likely be retweeted pretty quickly, so deleting it won’t completely erase it from the Twitterverse” so you’re not trying denying your offense but rather working towards making amends.

The second step, is to “assess the damage”. Unless you’ve managed to really screw up big-time, in most cases it’s not the end of the world. You just have to be authentic and really own your Twitter mistake. Remember that when it comes to Twitter, being a “realm of instant information, informality and close connections, people are usually pretty forgiving if you make a “human” mistake and own up to it.” says Dugan.

Your next step is to react. The most reasonable solution is most often a sincere apology. Whether you want to just tweet a 140-character apology and retraction or offer a long statement, make sure you really mean it. otherwise, you could look for a way to compensate anyone who’s been offended or you could go through a more creative route and build a marketing campaign around the incident to patch things up, “but you need to do something to rectify a regrettable tweet.”Dugan underlines.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a black-and-white rulebook on how to react to Twitter mistakes”, Dugan explains.“You’ve got to know your brand, your followers, and the message you’re trying to convey, and understand just how much damage your mistake caused.” Those unique factors will help you choose the better weapon to get the heck out of harm’s way.

Finally, It all adds up to what Baer calls the “Three A’s”: Acknowledge, Apologize and Authenticity. These are the blades that conform the chainsaw with which many renowned brands

have slayed their flesh-eating zombies in order to keep their followers. So wield this weapon and  chainsaw your way out if you ever suffer the misfortune of a social media nightmare.

What would you have done to survive in those situations?

Meta description: Keep your followers and avoid your twitter account to fall into a social media nightmare by learning from the biggest and most embarrassing mistakes, some of the world’s leading brands have made on twitter.

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