By Rob Taylor
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia's Qantas Airlines has been left red-faced after an ill-timed public relations campaign and Twitter competition backfired, drawing thousands of angry responses.
Qantas Tuesday invited users of the micro-blogging site to enter a "Qantas Luxury" competition, asking people to describe their "dream luxury in-flight experience" and possibly win a pair of Qantas first-class pyjamas and a toiletries kit.
The timing of the PR exercise was questionable, coming just a day after Qantas and its unions broke off contract negotiations and after Qantas grounded its fleet in late October, a drastic move that stranded thousands of angry customers.
PR experts said the campaign was perhaps Australia's greatest public relations failure and a classic example of the dangers of unpredictable social media.
"Epic PR fail, excellent case study in corporate cultural tone deafness. Simply don't get it," said social media commentator Peter Clarke.
Twitter user "stanofid" called the campaign the "Hindenburg of social media strategies."
Other unimpressed Twitter users set a stream of responses ranging from caustic jokes about the carrier to ordinary abuse.
Twitter user "ChanArmstrong" said Qantas luxury was "more than 3mins notice that the whole airline is on strike," while another user, describing themselves as "thesuspecto," said their answer was, "chose Singapore Air luxury instead."
Daniel Angus, using the Twitter name "antmandan," said Qantas luxury meant "being stranded on the other side of the world without warning when you just want to get home to your 10-month-old daughter."
Qantas last week hired four social media monitors to keep tabs on what people were saying about it on Twitter and Facebook after the fleet grounding. The carrier has also promised generous compensation for stranded passengers.
But Qantas put on a brave face, taking to Twitter again to quip Tuesday, "at this rate our #QantasLuxury competition is going to take years to judge."
The discussion came as unions considered launching more disruptions to Qantas flights and the Australian government's industrial relations umpire began work to impose a new wage agreement between Qantas management and workers.
This is not the first time Qantas has been in hot water over its PR efforts. In August it was criticized for a competition asking Australian fans to pose as their favorite rugby player and two fans posed as Fiji-born Radike Samo in Afro wigs and black paint.
The airline was pelted by critics for that episode, but others and Radike himself said the fans were paying him a tribute.
(Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Matt Driskill)
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.
Check out the 8 worst Twitter PR fails via the slideshow (below).
On April 2, a staffer for Singapore-based news outlet The Straits Times posted an offensive tweet on the company's feed. "I'd like to apologise unreservedly on behalf of our staff member. He mixed up his personal and corporate accounts," social media editor Ng Tze Yong tweeted, after the offending post had been deleted. [hat tip Christine L.]
In early March, a NSFW tweet found its way onto the Chrysler Autos feed. "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive," read the errant tweet, which was promptly removed. New Media Strategies, a social media agency in charge of the feed, took the fall for the ensuing controversy and fired the employee who managed Chrysler's tweets. Not long after, the AP reported that Chrysler had ended its relationship with New Media Strategies.
The Twitterverse recently turned against fashion designer Kenneth Cole after his official Twitter feed apparently misused the hashtag #Cairo to promote Cole's spring clothing line. At the time, Cairo was a trending topic on Twitter due to protests in Egypt. Cole soon deleted the tweet and apologized, calling the incident "poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate."
In February, the Red Cross's social media specialist Gloria Huang mistakenly posted a personal tweet on the company's feed. "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys," an explanatory Red Cross tweet said. Dogfish Head retweeted the "gettingslizzerd" hashtag and encouraged customers to donate to the Red Cross.
Someone claiming to be an intern for Marc Jacobs CEO Robert Duffy recently posted a rant on the company's official feed. The Daily Mail reprinted some of the tweets. "You guys and gals have no idea how difficult Robert is. I am only an intern. My last day is tomorrow. I wouldn't be tweeting this if not!" one read. "Good luck! I pray for you all. If you get the job! I'm out of here. See ya! Son't want to be ya! Roberts a tyrant! Seriously! He is tough!" read another. The tweets were deleted and the incident was blamed on a stolen password.
Shortly after the Japan tsunami, search engine Bing posted a tweet that promised a dollar for every retweet from followers. Tweeters bristled at the post, which was generally viewed as more of a marketing strategy than a charitable gesture, and Bing eventually backpedaled. "We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K," wrote Bing.
Back in 2009, UK furnishings retailer Habitat allegedly spammed popular hastag feeds with tweets promoting the brand. Habitat later apologized and blamed an "overenthusiastic intern" for inserting "#mousavi" (a 2009 Iranian presidential candidate) and "#iphone" into their promos.
In November 2010, the following tweet appeared on Vodafone UK's feed: "VodafoneUK is fed up of dirty homo's and is going after beaver." Customers were incensed, and some assumed that the account had been hacked. Vodafone admitted, however, that an employee had written the tweet. "An individual posted an obscene remark on the Vodafone UK Twitter account [...] The individual has been suspended pending further notice," read an apology issued by the company, according to The Guardian.