We all know social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are some of the best marketing tools for a business. But what happens when tweets go wrong?

Even though you want tweets to look effortless, each one of them should be well thought-out. You want to look at a Twitter campaign from every possible angle and get the opinions of others before it goes live.

The following companies may have had the best of intentions, but their tweets will forever be known as some of the most epic social media fails.

1. AT&T uses a tragedy to sell phones

On the anniversary of 9/11, AT&T tweeted a photo of one their smartphones in front of the New York skyline, with lights representing the World Trade Center. The caption read, “Never Forget.” Americans’ have not forgotten the tragedy and they certainly do not appreciate a company exploiting that tragic event by utilizing product placement in a tweet meant to commemorate 9/11.

The failed campaign goes to show that sensitive issues should never be used to promote a company’s brand. If you find yourself about to use someone else’s tragedy to promote your product, you need to rethink your strategy. Your customers and your community can certainly be grateful when you are sensitive enough to remember a tragedy, but keep your products and sales tactics out of any type of commemoration.

2. McDonald’s McDStories turn into McNightmares

In 2011 McDonald’s attempted to engage customers by asking them to share stories about eating at McDonald’s. Each person that posted a story was asked to use the #McDStories hashtag, and McDonald’s hoped that customers would be excited to share positive stories about their experiences eating at McDonald’s. Instead, users chose to share anecdotes about horrible service and less than stellar food. They even took the opportunity to blast the company’s low wages, lack of cleanliness and food sourcing choices.

If the #McDStories debacle teaches businesses one thing, it’s that you should probably never over-estimate the endearment of your own brand. After paying Twitter to promote the #McDStories hashtag, the campaign took on a life of its own and continued for weeks. Although interaction with customers is often viewed as a positive goal, you also have to remember that you don’t get to edit your customer’s opinions. Anyone with a negative opinion is just as free to chime in as those with positive opinions.

3. Toyota spams several thousand users

When Toyota decided to send users individual tweets promoting their 2012 Toyota Camry, the response was less than enthusiastic. Users immediately complained about the spam messages, pointing out that the worst way to sell a product is to try and shove it in someone’s face. It didn’t help that the tweets were meant to coincide with Super Bowl Sunday, and they felt that the word “Sunday” would be the best way to find individuals to send their tweets to.

The Toyota campaign lacked engagement and relied on spamming users to get a message across, rather than allowing users to spread the message themselves. Social media is meant to encourage a back-and-forth conversation between users, not serve as a billboard advertisement space.

4. Kellogg’s trades tweets for food

Kellogg’s decided to tweet “1RT=1 breakfast for a vulnerable child” as part of their Give a Child a Breakfast campaign. Although you can see where their good intentions were coming from, social media immediately rebelled. Users said the tweet was the equivalent of ransoming food for a retweet. The campaign diminished the plight of world hunger in order to make a sale. Some users considered it blackmail. A better approach would have been to match a monetary donation for every donation made by a Twitter user. Guilt is not a tool for marketing.

Social media can be a fantastic tool to raise awareness for a brand but, in the wrong hands, it can be a great tool to turn a business into the butt of a joke. Businesses should avoid using guilt or tragedy to gain awareness for a product.

So, the next time that your company is getting ready for a Twitter campaign, it is important that a lot of thought goes into the process. Although your campaign should look effortless to consumers, invest time and effort to ensure that your campaign never ends up on a list like ours.

Rachel Crandall is a social media specialist for Business Bee. She loves hiking and swimming with her chocolate lab, Bo, and then coming home to Instagram their adventures. She prides herself in staying current with all things social media.

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