November’s Top 5 worst Brand crises on Twitter

December 2 2015
Published in Crisis

The Visibrain blog regularly publishes case studies about brand crisis situations on social media, and November has left us spoilt for choice. It’s no secret that Twitter is pretty merciless with companies who slip up: it’s the preferred medium for spreading information at record speed, true or not.

Here are our top five cases of brands that were hot topics on Twitter last month for all the wrong reasons.

1. Amazon advertising outrage

Amazon hit the headlines last week with their extremely controversial decision to plaster the New York subway with Nazi imagery in a bid to promote their new show Man in the High Castle.

What happened on Twitter?

The campaign attracted a lot of attention, causing a surge in Twitter activity around the topic: 27,326 tweets containing the keywords “amazon” and “nazi” were posted between November 24th and November 27th, as we can see from the Visibrain Quick Trends timeline below:

A timeline of tweet volumes around the Amazon Nazi imagery scandal

Many were understandably offended by the insensitive use of Nazi imagery, and tweeted to protest:

@Amazon did not tweet about the issue, but the ads were pulled in response to public pressure.

What it means for the brand

In spite of their offensive nature, the anger around the Man in the High Castle campaign seems to have been short lived. Amazon’s decision to pull the ads, which were due to run until the end of December, helped to minimize public outrage, and the ads certainly attracted a lot of attention to the new show, which is getting good reviews.

2. Starbucks #RedCups controversy

The return of Starbucks’ #RedCups for the holiday season took over social media last month. The campaign attracted some unexpected controversy when the brand was criticized for not including any Christmas decoration on this year’s festive cups beyond their simple red colour.

What happened on Twitter?

The #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag was used to protest the minimalist design, and out of the 368,867 tweets posted over the first three weeks of November, over 25,000 used #MerryChristmasStarbucks, not including all of the other negative hashtags that cropped up.

However, the brand got off lightly as fans leapt to its defence, hijacking the #MerryChristmasStarbucks hashtag to criticize protesters in tweets such as the one below:

When we analysed the hashtag using the Visibrain Twitter monitoring platform, we could see that #MerryChristmasStarbucks was often used with a combination of other counterattack hashtags such as #itsjustacup, which shows that the brand’s critics didn’t actually manage to do any real damage:

The top hashtags used during the Red Cup controversy at the same time as #MerryChristmasStarbucks

Very astutely, Starbucks only responded very minimally to the protests and didn’t communicate on Twitter at all, simply allowing the crisis to wind down naturally.

What it means for the brand

The controversy generated a lot of tweets, but there were no real negative consequences for Starbucks. All it really meant for the brand was that this year, more people were talking about #RedCups than ever.

You can read our full analysis of the #RedCups campaign here.

3. Sea World “reforms” let down

Sea World’s reputation has been in tatters since the release of the incredibly damaging documentary “Blackfish”, and things didn’t get any better in November. The theme park announced that they were putting a stop to their highly-criticized orca displays, replacing them with shows based on more “natural behaviours”. The brand’s attempt to salvage its reputation backfired when critics discovered that only one Sea World park was concerned by the change and that the brand had no plans to release its captive whales.

What happened on Twitter?

The brand came under fire on Twitter as soon as the announcement was made, generating over 100,000 tweets in less than 48 hours.

The brand received very little support, with many saying that the reforms were simply not good enough:

Twitter data shows that the public were not prepared to forget about past mistakes either: #Blackfish was the most commonly used hashtag, appearing in over 10,000 tweets.

The most commonly used hashtags in tweets about the Sea World crisis

What it means for the brand

Sea World’s reputation is still floundering, and this month’s crisis proved that the brand may never recover from the damage done by the Blackfish scandal.

You can read our full analysis of the Sea World crisis here.

4. Chipotle E. Coli outbreak

Restaurant chain Chipotle had a sanitary crisis this month after an E-coli breakout in its Oregon and Washington restaurants.

The health scare had Twitter in uproar: 142,787 tweets referring to Chipotle and E. Coli have been posted over the past 30 days. As we can see from the Twitter volume timeline below, activity spiked at each new development in the case, as the illness spread and company shares dropped:

A timeline of tweet volumes for the Chipotle E. Coli scandal

Fans were understandably worried about returning to their favourite restaurants:

@Chipotle only posted one official response to the crisis on Twitter, but answered many concerned consumers individually and commented via other channels, including their Facebook page.

What it means for the brand

November has been a tough month for Chipotle, but the brand’s promise to pursue an “aggressive strategy” seems to have reassured consumers: many of the brand’s fans have declared themselves to be unfazed by the scare and company shares are on the rise again.

5. Nestlé slave labour scandal

Nestlé caused quite a stir last week after they announced that an investigation had revealed the use of slave labour by their seafood suppliers in Thailand. The brand freely admitted their part of responsibility in the affair, and declared that they would be doing everything they could to source their products more ethically in the future.

What happened on Twitter?

7,239 tweets referring to the announcement were posted:

A tweet volume timeline for the Nestlé slave labour scandal

The scandal was mostly covered by the press, some of whom praised the brand for their transparency, including Greenpeace:

However, the brand didn’t completely escape all negative backlash:

What it means for the brand

This is another unfortunate stain on Nestlé’s already dubious reputation, considering that the company already has a history of using child slave labour in its cocoa supply chain.

However, in spite of the negative press, the case was handled incredibly well and is an excellent example of good PR management. By making the announcement themselves and holding their hands up to their lack of responsible sourcing, the brand completely avoided a sensationalist scandal, and talk of the affair died down quickly.

Bonus: Barbie

A lot of brands have fallen prey to hackers this year, from Ashley Madison to TalkTalk, but the latest victim seems to be toy manufacturer Mattel.

It was revealed last month that their latest connected toy, Hello Barbie, a wi-fi enabled interactive doll, was vulnerable to hacking attempts that would potentially give attackers access to the owner’s home network and turn the doll’s microphone into a surveillance device.

Over 4,000 tweets were posted about the topic, which is bad news for Mattel for the start of the Christmas shopping season:

Of course, the scare could have a big impact on the connected toy market, and perhaps even the internet of things general, so we can expect to continue to see stories like this in the near future.

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Published in Crisis