Too Big to #Fail? Not on Twitter

Nov 15, 2013 at 1:00 PM ET

Note to the 1 percent: The 99 percent own smartphones. And they use Twitter.

JPMorgan, a company worth trillions of dollars, had to cancel a Twitter Q&A scheduled for yesterday after more than two-thirds of the tweets fired at the firm were negative. JPMorgan had invited the public to #AskJPM, and Main Street had some tough questions indeed for Wall Street.

Do you think JP Morgan had it coming? Tweet at us!

It all started innocently enough.

You have to wonder what it was like inside the JPMorgan PR room.

Old, rich guy No. 1: “This shouldn’t be so hard. It’s just social media, right?”

Old, rich guy No. 2: “Yeah, the place where simpletons post selfies and use hashtags.”

Old, rich guy No. 1: “These kids are obsessed with One Direction and Justin Bieber. We’ll probably get softball questions, like ‘What can JPMorgan do for me?'”

But once the negative tweets poured in, disaster.

JPMorgan isn’t the first big corporation to misunderstand the true free-for-all that is social media. Say what you will about 140 characters, Twitter has democratized the process of normal people interacting with the rich and famous.

“We are all aware that the wealthy are out of touch in today’s America,” says tech writer Andrew Roberts. “I’m glad it happened. Twitter took the ball and ran with it and this level of fail is cathartic.”

Here’s a list of some other companies who tried to be hip on the Interwebs and flopped miserably:

British Gas

The UK energy provider hosted #AskBG on Twitter in October and was quickly overwhelmed by customers angry about price hikes.

Like watching a train wreck live. (It is 2013, and all train wrecks will be live-tweeted.)

To British Gas’ credit, the company didn’t cancel the Q&A, and actually retweeted and responded to one of the harsher questions.


This one is an oldie but goodie, and it shows that companies really haven’t learned anything in years. The Australian-based airline asked users to tweet their “dream luxury in-flight experience” using #QantasLuxury. These 1 percent dreams came just one day after negotiations with unions were cut off, and the airline fleet was actually grounded, stranding thousands of customers. The hashtag was promptly hijacked.


McDonald’s does a lot of things right. It’s how the company built its worldwide empire. But maybe a fast-food chain shouldn’t actively encourage the world to share their stories of eating pink-slime chicken nuggets and frozen beef patties. That’s what happened when McDonald’s invited Twitter to #McDStories in January 2012.

Kenneth Cole

There’s another type of social media fail, one in which brands and corporations try to capitalize on a trending topic and end up sounding completely tone-deaf. That’s what happened to Kenneth Cole, the man worth $100 million dollars with his own fashion empire, not once but twice.

In September, when all eyes were on President Obama to see if America would intervene in Syria, Cole tweeted the following from his personal account:

He had done it before, two years earlier, when another country in the Middle East was in upheaval.

“Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now online…” went the tweet, with a link to said collection. He quickly apologized for the lack of sensitivity, but he obviously hasn’t learned his lesson. It’s safe to say he didn’t win any customers. Cole spawned his own parody: #KennethColeTweets.


September 2013 was not a good month for corporations and social media. A week after the shaming of Kenneth Cole, AT&T blundered into its own backlash on the 12th anniversary of 9/11.

AT&T had to apologize and removed the tweet.

So McDonald’s didn’t learn from Qantas, and JPMorgan didn’t learn from McDonald’s. Maybe some of those trillions should go to hiring better social media strategists.