Weathering The Twitter Storm – How To Avoid Causing An Uproar On Twitter

The social media tools of today allow for a level of communication more open, honest and intriguing than ever before seen. While this is all good news, there is still undoubtedly a dark side to networking online. Social networking is still a phenomenon that needs to be explored with caution, particularly micro blogging sites such as Twitter. With its protected status updates and ability to limit people seeing your personal information, Facebook is almost a safe haven in comparison.

Twitter’s set-up means that, as a code of basic practice, anything you share online can be seen (and repeated) by anyone in the world, meaning that sometimes conversations that you initiate suddenly spin out of your control.

What is a Twitter Storm? 

A thoughtless tweet or a careless remark, particularly when made by celebrities, is usually the cause of a Twitter storm. Of course, it is impossible to predict what the reaction to personal thoughts and comments may be, but there have been instances of Twitter foolishness from brands in recent years that could easily have been avoided.

UK furniture retailer Habitat got into hot water in 2009 by using hashtags in its tweets that had nothing to do with its business in order to sell promotional gift cards. Such activity, aptly described by many irate fans at the time as ‘spammy’, is sure to instigate the rage of the Twitter community.

Sometimes though, an embarrassing Twitter episode is something that falls out of your control. McDonald’s ran a Twitter campaign early in 2012 asking consumers to share their favourite memories of eating at the chain by using the hashtag #McDStories. The implementation of a hashtag potentially sends your tweets out further than the immediate area of your comfy couch, and this particular move meant that the tag could be exploited by consumers who happened to have a bad story involving the brand.

When people began tweeting about how they once chipped a tooth on a McDonald’s burger or how they got food poisoning from the chicken nuggets, the campaign was well and truly out of the brand’s hands – all the people at McDonald’s could do was sit, watch and wait for the storm to be over.

How to Avoid a Twitter Storm

In the example of McDonald’s above, perhaps a simple rethinking of the core hashtag would have prevented the problem. Something less open than #McDStories, #ThanksMcDonalds for example, may have led consumers to do exactly what the brand wanted – share positive stories and create strong sentiment for McDonald’s online. There are a few other ways you may be able to protect yourself from creating your own Twitter storm when tweeting:

  • Think twice – one of the most obvious ways to avoid antagonizing people online is to think carefully about what you tweet. Write out all of your tweets first before you post them, then read them back out loud and try to imagine yourself coming across them for the first time. Is there anything inflammatory in there? Have you expressed yourself clearly? Should you reword the tweet?
  • Run or fight – once you have posted a tweet that evokes an emotional reader reaction, you can either defend it or retreat from it. Sticking up for your personal opinions, even though they may be controversial, may not win you friends online but it should at least get you the respect of your Twitter peers. On the other hand, if someone is going over the top in their replies to you and is causing you severe stress, well, that’s what the ‘block’ button is for.
  • Apologize – if you think you have tweeted something that is offensive to others and you have changed your mind about the particular topic, saying a simple ‘sorry’ can be an efficient (though sadly underused) way to quell a tweet storm. Everybody makes mistakes, and most people online are honest and easy-going enough to recognize that.
  • Learn from it – whatever happens with your tweets, make sure you learn your lesson. If you say something offensive and are chastised online for it, take steps to improve the quality of your tweets in the future, without alienating your existing followers.

The laws of Twitter and other social networks can be a harsh mistress, but by following these guidelines you should be able to prevent yourself from getting embroiled in any unfortunate Twitter nightmares.

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Comments

  1. Ruth - The Freelance Writing Blog says

    I don’t think I’d want to be responsible for a veritable Twitter ‘storm’, but sometimes any publicity is good publicity. Often bloggers are encouraged to take on controversial topics in order to generate some buzz and debate. And Twitter can fuel those debates. I wonder what type of Twitter storm you could fuel Carolyn? Challenge the beauty of Apple products?

    • says

      Hi Ruth, Well, I’d like to think that I would not ever cause a Twitter Storm, but the thing about Twitter Storms is that what is intended to be a positive tweet spins out of control and turns negative.

      You never know what will happen when you post a tweet, but by following Anna’s suggestions, you can combat the repercussions of a Twitter Storm!
      Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently published this awesome post..What’s Your Business?My Profile

  2. says

    I prefer just sitting over here in my little corner and not stirring up any trouble if possible.

    I agree with you Carolyn as far as what Ruth said. Our voice isn’t important enough “yet” to make people stand up and take notice. I really don’t want the negative attention myself, I’m so much more of a positive person. Besides my little “serial killer” episode last year, things have been kind of quiet. Just how I prefer them.

    :-) I’m not going to cause any storms myself Carolyn.. Just hope everyone else thinks twice before tweeting something they just might regret.
    Adrienne recently published this awesome post..How To Set Up Social Media Icons In WordPress Using SocializeMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Adrienne, I agree with you. I try to make my tweets positive. If you don’t have anything nice to say…

      It’s even worse when you are the subject of someone else’s viciousness especially when all you’re doing is sitting in your corner behaving. The Internet is the Wild West and we are subject to storms spiraling out of control even though we haven’t done anything to bring on the rants.

      I hope more people follow your example, Adrienne!
      Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently published this awesome post..Manage Your Relationships the Easy Way with Facebook ListsMy Profile

  3. Hajra says

    For celebrities any publicity is good publicity; but then they have a show biz to run!

    For lesser mortals ;) I don’t think i would like to be involved in this… there’s hardly any explaining given 140 characters ;) But yes, keeping myself away from a twitter storm is just as necessary! :)

    What could we say to probably fuel a twitter storm! :)

    • says

      Hi Hajra, I hope we never find out what we have to do to provoke a Twitter Storm!

      I think you’re right, Twitter Storms are more for celebrities and companies but Twitter has also shown that individuals can move mountains on Twitter.
      Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently published this awesome post..An Apple for the Student?My Profile

  4. Ann Jane says

    I am seriously Twitter challenged. That 140 characters does me in every time and I’m still trying to figure out what all the symbols mean! I have the retweet down!!! I don’t think I have to worry about causing anything at all there..well, unless I do something by total mistake!

    Interesting read for me..Scary thought!

    ~*~

    • says

      Hi Ann Jane, Twitter definitely has a steeper learning curve than other social media such as Facebook. I write my tweets as I want to and if I’m over 140 characters I edit down after I write the tweets. If you try to keep in the 140 characters as you write, you may have a difficult time getting the message across.

      Let me know if you need help interpreting the symbols. Sometimes it seems as if there is a separate language on Twitter. One symbol you may see today is #FF which is Follow Friday. On Fridays, many people recommend their favorite Twitter accounts for others to follow. You can discover some great new twitterers that way!

      Don’t be scared by Twitter but do tread cautiously. :-)

  5. says

    I like this one, mainly because I’m hopeless at Twitter. I would like to stir up a virtuous rather than a vicious storm. I need Tweets to go viral! I have to get into Twitter now I am setting up a new WordPress site. I have the web space and domain; waiting for the DNS before I install. I have a feeling it won’t be as easy as I thought. I think until they have done the DNS I’m being denied access to the Cpanel so I’ll wait and see. I’m designed a good header for the site! I shall rewrite some blogs for the new site and write new ones and of course new categories! Lots of new photos! :)
    Mike Maynard recently published this awesome post..Finance | Appreciation and DepreciationMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Mike, Interesting, I think most of us think it would be a thrill if one of our tweets went viral, but this post shows how it can turn into a nightmare. But Twitter is a very useful way to publicize your new blog site.

      If you run into trouble setting up your own site, don’t forget Fiverr. You could wrestle with a problem for hours, or even days, or spend a few pounds hiring an expert who can solve the problem in a few minutes.

      Did you pick a good photography theme for your new site?

  6. says

    Informative post Carolyn!

    Had never heard of a Twitter storm earlier and well it sure must be causing a stir with some people. I guess we prefer to stay away from such things and like our normal interactions with each other or help spread the word about each other posts.

    I loved the tips you shared at the end about how you can protect yourself from creating your own Twitter storm when tweeting- those sure are very valid points.

    Thanks for sharing :)
    Harleena Singh recently published this awesome post..Accepting the 7 Links ChallengeMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Harleena, Thanks, I think that the advice at the end of the article is valid for anyone who tweets. While businesses and celebrities are the ones most vulnerable to a Twitter Storm, no one wants to get caught up in one.

      Most of the people I follow on Twitter wouldn’t get caught up in a Twitter Storm intentionally, but Twitter is still evolving so unintended consequences can happen!

  7. says

    Honestly, McDonald’s isn’t the worst food ever and I like some items on the US breakfast menu. It’s just too bad that they don’t have the breakfast menu in Romania. I resent them for that. [grin]

    A few years ago, I remember seeing the tweet: I want to vomit #starbucks

    I only noticed that tweet because our friend Tim used to tweet often about starbucks from time to time. And I had been searching the hashtag #starbucks to see his latest epiphany.

    Ultimately, those kinds of tweets are nothing to get anxious about. They’re more funny than doing actual brand damage. Unless that tone trends across time. But even then, it’s really not that big of a deal.

    Marketing and ad people tend to be naive and excitable that way. As if propaganda could truly and completely capture the human heart, command the sea to part (or just swell), or spark a revolution! As if! [laughing]

    Even the Communists themselves failed to harness the power of propaganda and they were relentless in trying to do so. But they did learn some tricks.

    People still buy Toyotas. Despite social media’s six or so month attention to Toyota’s reckless denials and poor response to the dangers of their unintended launch control.

    People still buy iPhones, iPads, and other Apple products even though we all know that Apple products are manufactured in Foxconn Chinese factories which are so abusive and exploitative of their workers that some of those workers would rather be dead than alive. In fact, social media doesn’t even make a big deal out of this horror.

    I’m not surprised, however.

    It makes me want to laugh at human folly. And it brings unbid tears of sorrow and compassion.
    Stan Faryna recently published this awesome post..Do you describe yourself as a social media [xxx]? Really?!My Profile

    • says

      Interesting, Stan. There is a saying that any publicity is good publicity. “Say what you want about me, just spell my name correctly.” Companies that find themselves in a PR quagmire may have difficulties navigating back to positive publicity. The impact on sales is what counts but everyone wants positive publicity.

      Twitter Storms against companies, governments, legislation can have a massive impact for the positive as well. Reforms can be implemented when people use their voices to protect for material changes for the better.

      Twitter Storms aren’t all bad.
      Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently published this awesome post..What’s Your Business?My Profile

  8. says

    Big hug to you Carolyn.

    Consider for just a fleeting moment that if you or I had the kind of genius that could spark storms on Twitter (on demand), you or I would actually be worth millions of dollars per year. Perhaps, 10s of millions of dollars.

    But how shall we describe a storm?

    1. 20,000 retweets of a single message by real people (not bots) on the same day -including RTs from a minimum of 10 percent of that top 1 percent of the Twitterati.
    2. 1 Million related tweets and retweets by real people using the same hashtag in the same week.
    3. 10 Million related tweets and retweets by real people and bots in the same month.

    Any of the above? All of the above? Honestly, I don’t know the right answer. Do you?
    Stan Faryna recently published this awesome post..How to write an epic blog post. And other social media DOHs.My Profile

    • says

      Hi Stan, Interesting question. First, our Klout would be 100. Second, I wonder that if we truly had that kind of influence whether it would be possible to profit from it. If we tried to sell our influence to commercialize our influence, our followers would most likely depart hastily, sensing immediately that our opinions were no longer our own.

      But it certainly is a fascinating question to ponder!
      Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently published this awesome post..Have a Heart!My Profile

  9. says

    I have read about the McDonald’s Twitter storm, and I thought it was kind of funny, and that they should have expected it. There are so many people who are boycotting McDonalds all across the world, and when it comes to social media, they shouldn’t forget that people are in control and not the companies. So, if a product has a lot of “enemies”, this will be very visible in social media.

    What you’re saying is very important. We should think twice before doing anyting online, especially when it comes to businesses. And if we’re not there (online) when things are going bad, we’re in deep trouble.
    Jens P. Berget recently published this awesome post..Guest blogging: Which Sites To Target?My Profile

    • says

      Excellent point, Jens. It’s important to be online to manage our online reputation. We need to be mindful what others are saying about us. I’m hoping it’s all good things, especially if we keep our online communications positive, but that isn’t always the case.
      Carolyn Nicander Mohr recently published this awesome post..Facebook: Your Time for Timeline?My Profile

  10. says

    Anna/Carolyn,

    Starting some kind of social meltdown on Twitter isn’t exactly at the top of my things to worry about right now. Maybe later, when I’m famous.

    However, thanks for the explanation of the hash tag thing. That has had me a bit bamboozled I confess – but I don’t use Twitter all that much.
    Hamish recently published this awesome post..Free Nook Simple Touch From Barnes And NobleMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Hamish, Well at least you’ll be prepared when you get famous. By the time you’re famous you won’t have time to read up on how best to tweet. Very wise to prepare ahead of time!

      Let me know if you have any other hashtag questions. Perhaps a post on that topic is in order?

    • says

      I agree, Mark, don’t drink and tweet, don’t drink and drive, don’t drink and text, don’t drink and post on Facebook. Your life, career and relationships will be much improved if you follow that advice. :-)

  11. Faran says

    I am not much of a twitter user, because of the idea behind the twitter itself. I mean I don’t even get why would someone wanna share the details of their everyday life with everyone which can be ‘retweeted’ as you said. In my opinion if someone wants to avoid twitter storm, avoid twitter.

    P.S: this is just my own opinion about twitter :)

    • says

      Hi Faran, You’re not the only one who doesn’t get Twitter. But if you follow people who post about their everyday lives, then you’re following the wrong people. I bet you could find some interesting people to follow on Twitter.

      You’re right, the best way to avoid a Twitter Storm is to stay off of Twitter. But what fun is that? ;-)

  12. Sonia says

    Stirring the pot is something I would avoid like the plague. Any tweet posted to cause harm or even be controversial for the sake of doing it is stupid. You either have your blog set up that way or you better have some good comebacks from backlash.

    Life is much easier just being nice and respecting one another. Nothing good ever comes from being a jerk.