Twitter fails: With great power comes great responsibility

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With 140 characters at your disposal and the pressure to get a hashtag in there too, it’s no wonder some individuals – and big named brands – seem to get social media very wrong.

2013 saw many Twitter fails, leaving us all cringing and praying for account deletions. It also left the world in no doubt as to the awesome power of social media and how reputations and livelihoods can be destroyed if not used properly.

A recent example of a twitter fail comes from Justine Sacco, a communications executive for InterActiveCorp (IAC) who tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” on December 20th before boarding an eleven-hour flight from London to Cape Town.

Unable to use her phone while travelling, Sacco had no idea about the twitterstorm that was raging from her thoughtless, highly offensive tweet. Even though she only had 200 followers at the time of hitting send, one of them emailed the tweet to the press who were having a slow news afternoon.

The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet began to trend as thousands of tweeters shared the tweet, calling her stupid and racist. Memes and mock film posters were created while she was still in the air and Aids for Africa even bought and redirected it to a funding page.

Whether attempting to be risqué or going for a sarcastic angle, this misuse of social media had costly effects. By the time Sacco landed in Cape Town, she was a hated internet figure and had lost her job.

Other examples include Kellogg’s UK who, in November, tweeted “1RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child”, which was taken by many to mean that Kellogg’s would only feed vulnerable children if they got a retweet, instead of the original intention of promoting their ‘Help give a child a breakfast’ scheme. Although the tweet was quickly deleted, and an apology made, this was a blow to the brand’s reputation.

Another misuse of wording came from Tesco in January, amid the horse meat scandal, when they signed off twitter for the night with the tweet: “It’s sleepy time so it’s off to hit the hay.”

There is also the issue of who controls your Twitter account, as the person with the password becomes the voice of your brand. This was demonstrated last year when HMV’s account became a running commentary on the ‘mass execution’ of staff when the administrators took over the failing business.

As well as making the company look ruthless, these tweets from newly fired employees also made a mockery of those in charge, using the hashtag: #hmvXFactorFiring

With Twitter turning eight in March of this year, and Facebook recently celebrating their 10th birthday, it’s hard to believe that social media is still not taken seriously by multi-million pound organisations and even the PR professionals who are tasked with upholding a company’s reputation.

The world is waiting with baited breath for the next twitter scandal, so be sure to think about how you use your next 140 characters.


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