February 6, 2014
Purell, the hand-sanitizer brand, tweeted during the Super Bowl that the Denver Broncos looked as bad as the Cleveland Browns — leading to a series of apologies on Twitter and elsewhere.
But as Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports, Purell wasn’t the only corporate Twitter account that used the Super Bowl as pretext to tweet and wound up with its foot in its mouth. The cable-news channel MSNBC ran into trouble for a racially charged message about a Cheerios ad that aired during the game. And the gaffes aren’t limited to the Super Bowl: Companies tweet apologies so often that it sometimes seems they do little else on social media.
A study published recently in the Journal of Pragmatics examined 1,183 Twitter apologies issued by corporations, celebrities and ordinary people between 2010 and 2012. Corporate Twitter accounts used the words “sorry” and “apology” or “apologize” at 8.6 times and 7.4 times the frequency of individuals. “Regret” appeared 37.5 times more frequently in corporate tweets. But apologetic social-media messages from brands rarely restate what they’re apologizing for, and often stop short of accepting blame — thereby obscuring the initial offense. About 30 percent of corporate apologies included an offer to right the wrong, the study found.
Corporations issue a lot of apologies on social media because that’s where people go to complain, but perhaps also because companies tweet too often, stirring up trouble with careless statements. “There is a perception that there is a daily need to create content to engage consumers,” says Jason Kapler of Networked Insights, a company that advises brands on how to use social media. This excessive tweeting, often outsourced to marketing agencies, may be “undermining the brand equity they’re building with consumers.” — Greg Beaubien