Failure to Think – “Tasteless” Tweeting from Epicurious

Social media campaigns can so easily go wrong. Whether it’s the social media team not properly analyzing the audience, no one checking the wording of the content or using the wrong platform entirely; there are so many ways to ruin your company’s credibility and reputation (your greatest asset).

I think the “best” of the worst social media campaigns I found in my research is the Conde Nast owned food website, Epicurious, whose totally inappropriate tweets in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, makes me question who exactly was in charge of their social media campaign.

Picture of scandolous tweets
Inappropriate tweets following the Boston Marathon Bombing (Mr. Media Training, 2013).

Initially they took the right approach tweeting out a simple, “Our thoughts are with everyone in Boston.” However, within twenty-four hours Epicurious posted some rather tactless promotional tweets (pictured above) (Red Banyan Group, 2013). I, personally, cannot think of more phenomenally bad or insensitive things to tweet at your 385,000 followers audience following the heart wrenching attack that occurred to hundreds of innocent bystanders. Therefore, it was no surprise when their Twitter audience immediately expressed outrage.

Trying to promote yourself by spinning an unexpected event into a social media opportunity is not new, as Nicola mentioned that was how Oreo’s “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet became one of the greatest tweets of all time. They took advantage of the 34 minute blackout during the 2013 Superbowl and literally scored a touchdown in marketing using social media after receiving 15,000 retweets. The company saw an incredible opportunity they could immediately utilize through social media and they leveraged it.

But it’s one thing to do that for an unexpected power outage, trying to do the same thing following a tragedy, like the Boston Marathon Bombing, is completely another. So how could the company get it so wrong?  Were they actually scheduled tweets that accidentally went out to the public? A publicity stunt to get attention that went horribly wrong?

As far as anyone knows these tweets were unscheduled and if they were scheduled that makes the wording of the second tweet, “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today” puzzling. It also raises the question that if the tweets were scheduled why did no one delay them or delete them? They weren’t released till the next day on April 16th, surely someone must have been looking at Epicurious’ twitter feed thinking that those posts were not appropriate given the gravity of the event.

Regardless of how the tweets got there the company now clearly had a viral social media crisis (Schaffer, 2013), on its hands, so how do they respond?

Copy and paste apology for Epicurious followers
Generic carbon copy response for Epicurious followers (Eater, 2013).

A generic cut and paste apology to its audience. Yeah. That’s a surefire winner…

Needless to say this poorly constructed and executed “template” apology (it was copied and pasted 17 times) only further enraged angry tweeters. Not only was it impersonal its wording was also questionable. As Brad Phillips from Mr. Media Training wrote: “The word ‘seem’ shifts the burden of blame onto their readers, who the brand seems to think were overly sensitive. It stops short of fully acknowledging the obliviousness of their tweets. Second, a repeatedly tweeted template ‘apology’ isn’t genuine. It’s a form letter. The steady stream of identical tweets does nothing to engage with the audience and express human remorse” (Mr. Media Training, 2013).

Then came their actual apology:

Epicurious apology tweet
Epicurious apology tweet (Eater, 2013).

Then nothing.

The company didn’t issue any further apology or address the problem again. They deleted their previous tweets and apologies and stopped tweeting altogether…for six days.

It wasn’t until April 22, 2013 when the posted again on their Twitter account in honour of Earth Day.

Celebrate #EarthDay with these 24 top-rated spring vegetable recipes: epi.us/11xsX5w

~ epicurious (@epicurious) April 22, 2013

Final Thoughts

So was silence the best policy? The thing about social media campaigns is that they tend be short-lived and can blow over relatively quickly. If they had continued to make more apologies it would have resulted in the scandal being prolonged (Mr. Media Training, 2013).

But it is clear that they lost much more then simply a few days of self-promotion. Social media is a tool but it is also an extension of your brand. The person who wrote those tweets was writing for the company and they clearly disregarded the situation in an attempt to create brand awareness using this event.

The actions of Epicurious not only screamed of no forethought or respect for those who experienced this tragedy but also degraded the value of their brand. If it was a publicity stunt to get attention it got the wrong kind, the old adage “any publicity is good publicity” does not apply. As Neal Schaffer points out that without social media guidelines there is the potential for brand reputation and loss of customer trust because those in charge of social media campaigns do not know how to implement the strategy (Schaffer, 2013). It is also clear that once the crisis began it took them awhile to realize that they needed to deal with the catalyst (Schaffer, 2013), (the whole grain cranberry scones) and not simply paste a vague apology to their angry followers.

The lesson to be learned from this…never mix marketing and tragedy.

Resources

Eater. (2013). Epicurious Is Epi-Classy with ‘Insensitive Boston Tweets.’ Retrieved February 7, 2014, from http://eater.com/archives/2013/04/16/epicurious-keeps-epiclassy-with-insensitive-boston-tweets.php

Mr. Media Training. (2013). Tragedy in Boston: What the Hell was Epicurious Thinking?. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from http://www.mrmediatraining.com/2013/04/16/tragedy-in-boston-what-the-hell-was-epicurious-thinking/

Red Banyan Group. (2013). Food Website Posts Tasteless Social Media About Boston Marathon Tragedy. Retrieved February 7, 2014, from www.redbanyangroup.com/food-website-posts-tasteless-social-media-about-boston-marathon-tragedy/

Schaffer, N. (2013). Maximize your social a one-sep guide to building a social media strategy for marketing and business success. Hoboken, New Jersey: Windmills

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