Pats’ Racist Tweet: What to Do When Marketing Automation Fails

Marketing automation mistakes can cause even the mighty to fall. I wrote a December 2011 cover story about how the New England Patriots used analytics and trigger emails to successfully retain season ticket holders. Today, I’m writing about how software failed the NFL team.

Marketing automation mistakes can cause even the mighty to fall. I wrote a December 2011 cover story about how the New England Patriots used analytics and trigger emails to successfully retain season ticket holders. Today, I’m writing about how software failed the NFL team.

On Nov. 13, @Patriots replied to fans to thank them for helping @Patriots gain 1 million followers.

“We’re saying thanks to @patriots’ 1million followers w/ custom digital Pats jerseys—RT for yours! #1MillionPatriots,” reads the tweet.

Unfortunately, a couple RTs came from accounts with racist handles, and the @Patriots’ automatic “thanks” replies listed each handle twice—once in the text and once in the customized digital jersey. Apparently, @Patriots only noticed the one many others—including Boston.com—noticed after it went up at 8:02 p.m. on Nov. 13. [Editor’s note: Both Twitter handles are extremely offensive to African-Americans and will not be reprinted here. A Pats fan at Barstool Sports shows both tweets at 10 p.m. on Nov. 13.]

“We apologize for the regrettable tweet that went out from our account. Our filtering system failed & we will be more vigilant in the future,” tweets @Patriots around 10 p.m. on Nov. 13. Members of the Pats’ marketing team did not reply to Target Marketing‘s emailed requests for comment on Friday.

Meanwhile, as embarrassing as this situation may be for the Pats, its Twitter campaign is showing results. The campaign that started at 9:47 a.m. EST on Nov. 13 had 9,341 retweets and 1,647 favorites as of 4:54 p.m. on Friday. The account also had 1.01 million fans—which is nowhere close to its 5.5 million Facebook likes.

However, the Pats may want to know how to fix this situation. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Add Human Oversight of Automation. Several fans, including @errrica of Philadelphia, suggested doing away with tweet automation altogether, but this suggestion came from ‏@nalin in San Francisco on Friday: “@merket @Patriots Yeah, when it comes to your brand, a human should probably be involved somewhere along the way.”
  • Apologize. A Lot. The Pats did apologize, but maybe the organization can do even more. (Entrepreneur sure thinks so.) When Shutterfly accidentally sent an email congratulating all users on having a baby, the company apologized on Twitter and via emails signed by the CMO and sent to all affected parties, writes Crawford McCarty on Oct. 20 on the Silverpop Blog.

    “Create a simple generic apology email you can tweak to speed up the apology process,” McCarty writes in the “Sender’s Remorse: The Human Side of Email Marketing” post. “As long as you remember to stay calm, figure out what happened and who was affected, and think through how to best address the problem, you’ll be on your way to minimizing your Sender’s Remorse. Notice I said minimizing and not eliminating—we’re are all human, after all.”

  • Learn From It and Research the Channel Well Enough to Skip Dumb Ideas in the Future. This was an easily predicted consequence of an unmonitored social media promotion, writes Mary Elizabeth Williams on Friday on Salon.com.

    “It wasn’t an intentional act of racism that led to the incredibly offensive retweet [sic],” she writes in her “Patriots Racist Retweet Caps an Epic Week of Social Media Failures” article. “But it was an easily foreseeable result of a calculated social media promotion that I would wager several individuals within the team’s promotion department were involved with. Apparently not one of them thought, ‘Hey, sometimes people use their Twitter handles to say horrible, horrible things.’ Not one of them said, ‘We need to come up with a very hands on plan, or do something entirely different.'”

Is marketing automation for everyone?

Please respond in the comments section below.

Author: Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

4 thoughts on “Pats’ Racist Tweet: What to Do When Marketing Automation Fails”

  1. Sure social media has flaws. What medium doesn’t? This incident is easily prevented with human oversight, and fixed with numerous apologies, which cost nothing.
    Allowing two assclowns to remove a perfectly good method of communicating with thousands of prospective customers is silly.
    Most people who can afford smart phones are potential customers. They’re vocal, and SMART marketers will find ways to attract and engage them without embarrassing themselves.

  2. To answer your question, no, automation is not for everyone. Clearly the team’s social media procedures need a complete overhaul.

    I’m a little shocked that this kind of thing still goes on. Major brands have been damaged, if briefly, by inappropriate tweets (usually blamed on an intern or disgruntled employee), badly-timed automatic tweets (often around a major news event/crisis), or lack of imagination about how an innocuous campaign can get easily turned around into something different (the Cosby meme from last week).

    Without losing a human voice, companies have to THINK these things through. and that starts with professionals who know what NOT to do.

  3. The more I read about unfortunate incidents like this, the more convinced I am the social media is a flawed vehicle for any type of business or PR communication. If people outside the organization can muddy a message, then there’s something wrong with the medium itself.

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