Is Twitter turning into a brand PR no go area?

By MHP

It has not been a great couple of weeks for brands on Twitter.

McDonald’s in particular seems to have come in for a bashing. Last week’s golden arch themed outrage was over an article by Alex James in The Sun where he suggested the fast food chain was ‘in some ways, like a Michelin starred restaurant’ (the comparison wasn’t actually inaccurate, by the way). Now the McDonald’s vitriol has latched onto a hashtag –  #McDStories – which the company used on their official Twitter account. Now reported as a Twitter campaign backfiring (I’m not sure I would call it a ‘campaign’, it was a couple of tweets asking for stories) by UK and US national media, what it consisted of was Twitter users posting negative stories about McDonalds using the hashtag they themselves had started.

The odd thing I find about media reporting on a story like this is it is almost self-fulfilling prophecy, what starts as a few predictable negative tweets generally only reaches critical mass after an article or blog post stokes the flames. The reporting of a ‘social media crisis’ is often what creates the crisis.

McDonald’s is not the only brand on the receiving end of this week’s twitter outrage. On Sunday afternoon I noticed tweets from Katie Price being retweeted into my feed. This is not a regular occurrence so I checked them out, and it appeared to me as if her account had been hacked by activists with economic concerns. As it happened, it was in fact Snickers playing a joke on us all, as we discovered Katie had not relinquished her Twitter password to anti capitalists, she’d just not been herself due to lack of a recent chocolate/caramel/nougat/peanut injection. And she was not the only celebrity, as Rio Ferdinand and Cher Lloyd have also since got involved.

Leaving aside the merits of the campaign idea itself (Why dupe your audience? Why would being hungry make you economically aware? Why keep repeating the same joke with the significant expense of using several celebs?) it’s clearly upset a few Tweeps. Not only that, but Snickers are now under threat of being investigated by OFT. We get celebrities tweeting about brands and products all the time, but this stunt seems to have upset too many people and been too barefacedly promotional for OFT to ignore.

LA Fitness are another brand to have come under the cosh, as they were trending in the UK yesterday following an article on Guardian.co.uk that explained how a couple had been forced to continue their 24 month contract despite the husband being made redundant and the wife falling pregnant.

It seems that brands cannot get it right on Twitter anymore. Stopping short of simple news and offers feeds, or customer service (which is always appreciated when done well), brand activity on Twitter keeps going awry. We all love a good brand social media car crash, and at times it feels as if the thrill of the chase is what drives a lot of twitter users in their use of the service. There are so many people whinging, that complaining about your least favourite brand on Twitter is becoming almost as much of a cliché as tweeting about your breakfast.

I would never argue that PR should ignore Twitter; its power to disseminate news is unparalleled, and this week founder Jack Dorsey explained that it is more ‘news’ than ‘social’. But is it time that campaign led brand PR starts steering clear of the platform and focussing on more controllable platforms like Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr?

You keep thinking about that whilst I go craft my pitch to ITV for ‘Social Media Campaigns FROM HELL’. 

This post was originally published on BrandatMHP.com.