In the wake of the recent disasters in Japan, many organizations used Twitter to raise donations for the relief effort overseas. However, Microsoft’s Bing pledged $100,000 and received a lot of criticism for their generous pledge.
On March 12, Bing tweeted “How can you #SupportJapan? For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”
Some may think it’s a clever way to engage users and make pledging more interactive. But Bing also received backlash from people accusing them of exploiting the tragedy to market itself and hijacking the #SupportJapan hashtag.
How so? Every time you retweet their message, you are mentioning Microsoft’s brand, promoting and expanding their reach to your followers, who might retweet to their followers, and on and on. If they wanted to donate the money, then just donate the money. By turning this into a modern day digital bite-sized email chain letter (remember those?), they came across as opportunistic and self-promoting during a time of tragedy.
Furthermore, users who search the #SupportJapan hashtag hoping to get real-time updates on the disastrous situation will get intermittent tweets of Bing’s donation solicitation; not exactly what information-starved people are looking to consume.
Microsoft quickly apologized, but the damage was done.
What can government learn from this PR debacle?
1) It’s not all about you
Nobody likes shameless promoters, people who focus too much on pushing their brand across.
This is a simple lesson that might not be easy to grasp. From our insider’s perspective, we’re just trying to figure out ways to make our information relevant and useful in the social media universe. And especially for agencies starting out on Twitter, they’ll have to push their names out just to build up their follower base.
But put yourself in the shoes of a recipient. Would you rather see an Education Agency tweet about all the activities they’re doing to improve school systems, or would you rather see “check out my homepage. Follow us here.”
The lesson is not “don’t talk about yourself,” but “don’t put yourself above the important services you provide.”
2) Social media can be abused, so learn the proper etiquette
I’m sure Microsoft had good intentions and wasn’t trying to be opportunistic like Kenneth Cole was, but users are smart and can sniff out the perception of a hidden agenda.
Learn the culture and etiquette, which isn’t easy either, since it keeps evolving. I did a generic search for “Twitter etiquette” and the top responses weren’t completely up to date. But the more you participate and follow the influencers on Twitter, the more you naturally learn the rules of engagement.
It’s not likely that most agencies will experience the kind of backlash that Microsoft experienced, but it’s still good to keep in mind the lessons we can learn from other peoples’ failures.
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