One of the most epic social media brand fails of all time, and what elected officials can learn from it

In what has to be one of the more serious social media fails of a major corporation, ever, US Airways accidentally tweeted out a very explicit pornographic image involving a woman and a toy airplane.

The background: US Airways, like all major airlines, has a Twitter account.  The account is mainly used to respond to customer complaints, of which there appears to be no shortage.  A conversation started with a disgruntled customer.  It quickly went…astray:


Image from Buzzfeed

Image from Buzzfeed

That picture, which I am not linking to, was a very pornographic image…involving a toy airplane.  If you want to find it, go to Google or the Buzzfeed article, it’s not hard to find.

Needless to say, the tweet was up for almost an hour before being deleted.  US Airways put up this apology tweet:

Interestingly, as noted in the Buzzfeed article, the picture was tweeted to US Airways that day, which is what caused the problem.  As the airline later explained:

“Our investigation has determined that the image was initially posted to our Twitter feed by another user. We captured the tweet to flag it as inappropriate. Unfortunately the image was inadvertently included in a response to a customer,” Miller said.

He said the company moved as quickly as possible to take down the tweet as soon as it realized what had happened.

“We deeply regret the mistake and we are currently reviewing our processes to prevent such errors in the future,” he added.

Assuming this is accurate, this is pretty much the worst copy and paste of all time.  However, the tweet was up for nearly an hour – an extremely long period of time in the social media world.  That is one of the more interesting parts of this entire fail, and it shows the need to establish a real management protocols in your Twitter account.  To that end, a few points for electeds going forward:

1)  Always review @ mentions: US Airways has over 422,000 followers, many of whom responded to the post within minutes. Anyone looking at the mentions section would have caught that something was amiss.
2)  Speed kills:  It wouldn’t have mattered if this tweet was up for a second or an hour – it would have become a national story, given its content.  However, the fact that it was up for nearly an hour is an incredible social media sin.  With a full time staff that sends out dozens of tweets a day, this picture should have been noticed and removed from the moment it was sent.
3)  Speed can kill:  This is a total guess, but someone was probably in such a hurry that they hit copy and paste before either double checking the link they were sending out, or they missed a button (yes, a missed button may have caused a national scandal, and it’s not the first time).  Speed does kill, but speed can kill if you move to fast.  Take a second to double check your links and text – and can save you a serious degree of heartache.

Anything else to add?  Let me know in the comments!

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