The New England Patriots are one of the biggest American football teams in the US, having appeared in the Super Bowl ten times in franchise history – the most of any team.  Last night they attempted to draw level with the Pittsburgh Steelers and claim their sixth title.

In November 2014, they also dominated Twitter, becoming the first NFL team to reach 1 million followers.

To celebrate, the Patriots’ official Twitter account ran a campaign where anyone who retweeted their message of thanks would be treated to a ‘custom digital jersey’.

To make the image, they took the retweeter’s Twitter name and added it to the back of the jersey. The Patriots’ official account then automatically tweeted the image. For fans of the team, it would have been lovely to see their name on the shirt.

Sadly, one user who retweeted the image had a racist handle – and the fact the Patriots tweeted it meant it quickly went viral.

New England Patriots custom jersey on Twitter | eBloopers | Bad Marketing

The tweet forced an apology from the Patriots for sharing the racist and offensive image.

What does good look like?

This was a nice campaign idea, but relying on user-generated content will always leave you vulnerable to the extreme views held by a minority of people.

In their apology, the Patriots blamed the filtering in the system they used to create the image – so if you plan to run a similar campaign, make sure you’re confident the technology won’t let you down and is robust enough to keep out any offensive terms.

And if your system does fail you, then act swiftly. Immediately remove the derogatory post and apologise to avoid damaging your brand’s reputation. In the Patriots’ case, the tweet was created on 13th November at 9pm and the apology came the next day in the small hours. They also explained the cause of the error and promised to learn from it for future campaigns.  This good and quick response would have helped reduce the impact of this e-blooper.

The fact the Patriots were able to respond in the early hours of the morning prevented this snowballing through the night. Most social media teams wouldn’t have seen the offending tweet until they clocked into work the following day, by which time things may have got a lot worse.

Moving forward

This story acts as a stark warning for anyone running a user-generated content campaign. Ensure your online activity isn’t open to abuse by making sure that the marketing automation systems you use are capable – and can prevent rude and racist content being used in your name.

Also consider whether out-of-hours social media monitoring is appropriate, because a speedy response can make all the difference to your reputation should things go wrong.

What’s the moral of this Bad Marketing story for you? How will you change the way you run a campaign? Please comment below and share if you found this article useful.

Campaign date: November 2014