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.
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.