The New England Patriots football team thought they'd cooked up a winning social-media marketing plan. It went like this: When the Patriots reached 1 million followers on Twitter, the team would "say thanks" by creating digital images of jerseys featuring people's Twitter handles. To get one, all anyone had to do was retweet this:
We're saying thanks to @patriots' 1million followers w/ custom digital Pats jerseys – RT for yours! #1MillionPatriots pic.twitter.com/u2SfidCb9e
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 13, 2014
As you can imagine, lots of people did it and lots of personalized, digital Patriots jerseys were tweeted from @Patriots. It was all social-media magic until some jerk had the brilliant idea to create a Twitter account with a ridiculously offensive name and then retweet the Patriots.
The result? This socially horrible Twitter handle was blazoned atop a digital version of a Patriots jersey and then tweeted by the team. (If you really want to see the jersey in question, you can see it here.)
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And the Twitterverse cried out in collective offense. Some people called for NFL's top leaders to shut down the Patriots' Twitter account. Others, well, had a little more fun with it.
Live shot of the @Patriots front office pic.twitter.com/ttGRSl7Kw9
— Jason Sparks (@sparksjls) November 14, 2014
Either way, the campaign — from conception to the apology — was a disaster. Here's why.
Lack of brand protection.
The idea of "saying thanks" is great. Creating something neat for fans is nice, too. But any time you auto-create something that combines your branding with any type of content created by others, you risk associating your brand with something or someone you or others deem undesirable.
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An incomplete 'solution.'
You don't want offensive content coming through during your super-awesome social-media campaign. So, in this case, the Patriots created filters that blocked out anything that included pre-determined naughty words.
Note: Pre-determined. No matter how many minds you have working on creating these filters — and no matter how unsavory those minds might be — you're never going to think of and block every.single.offensive.thing.that.someone.can.say.ever.
As the old saying goes, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the barrel…
Once the Patriots became aware of the controversy, the team deleted the offending tweet and sent this gem:
We apologize for the regrettable tweet that went out from our account. Our filtering system failed & we will be more vigilant in the future.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 14, 2014
The team apologized but blamed it on the failed filtering system. In other words, sorry, but don't blame us. The system failed. It wasn't our fault.
Come on. Just apologize and own it. "Apologies" like this are cheap.
This type of social-media fiasco happens to brands all too often. This one, just like the others, is more proof of just how pathetic some people can be — anonymously on social media, no less. It's sad.
If you think you want to involve the crowd on social media for your business and everything will be sunshine and unicorns, don't be so sure.
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