Social Media. Either you’re on it, or you’re not (but be honest, you’re probably on it). It comes in multiple forms, too: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, et al. These online communities are more popular than ever, with features that promise greater freedom and flexibility. The opportunity to experience the world and connect with friends and family is just a touchscreen or a mouse click away, making it remarkably easy for brands to deliver their messages right into the hands of customers. But of course for every Yin there is a Yang. And as Coca-Cola experienced firsthand earlier this week, for every well-intentioned social media or digital campaign conceived, there’s an army of trolls ready to thwart forward progress.
Following a well-received Superbowl commercial in which a glass of Coke is accidentally spilled on a city power grid and subsequently “spreads” good vibes around the world, the company executed a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #MakeItHappy – an attempt to combat online negativity by turning mean tweets into cute, fanciful images.
Naturally, this brought out the trolls – in this case, Gawker, the gossip blog that covers media and celebrities – who proceeded to tweet out lines of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf using a Twitter bot @MeinCoke. You can guess what happened next: Coke’s automated system churned out passages from the book in the form of cute text art to its millions of followers.
Almost immediately, the company’s Twitter campaign was suspended, with Coke issuing the following statement: “The #MakeItHappy message is simple: The Internet is what we make it, and we hoped to inspire people to make it a more positive place. It’s unfortunate that Gawker is trying to turn this campaign into something that it isn’t. Building a bot that attempts to spread hate through #MakeItHappy is a perfect example of the pervasive online negativity Coca-Cola wanted to address with this campaign.”
It was indeed unfortunate, but it was also a valuable lesson for Coke and other brands considering automated Twitter campaigns: assign a team to host the campaign in real-time, and monitor interactions because the likelihood that your campaign will be trolled, Rickrolled, hacked, hijacked is high. Even non-automated campaigns run the same risk, for where there is social media, there are pranksters at the ready, waiting to instigate and cause embarrassment on a massive scale. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.