Social Media Etiquette: 6 Important Lessons Learned from One Japanese Company’s Major Twitter Mistake


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Social media is a fascinating and new medium for businesses. If done right, social media can be an incredibly viral way of spreading the word about your company, brand, or product. However, because of its “viral” nature, companies are learning the hard way that social media can amplify the good, and the bad, about your company and/or products. All it takes is one mistake in social media etiquette to damage your brand and have bloggers and tweeters from around the world spreading the message about what you did wrong. That harm can be tremendous and should not be underestimated.

Today we look at the major Twitter mistake that a big Japanese company, UCC Coffee, recently did on Twitter. What did they do wrong? And what are the six important lessons that businesses and professionals can learn from it?

I will be honest with you that, when I am in Japan, I am an avid canned coffee drinker. There are vending machines with canned coffee (as well as corn potage, many types of teas, and the usual sodas) on almost every street corner and train platform. And they’re quite tasty. UCC Coffee is one of the leading brands of canned coffee in Japan, and they are even sold in Japanese supermarkets here in the United States. So, I’ll admit that I am their “fan”, and even this incident will not stop me from drinking their coffee. That being said, some of their targeted Japanese demographic may think differently.

So what did UCC Coffee do? Like everyone else in Japan, they were trying to get on the Twitter bandwagon fast. There are presently more Twitter users in Japan than Facebook or LinkedIn users, despite the fact that Twitter is a relatively latecomer there. However, Twitter in Japan is still in its infancy and businesses are making the same mistakes that many others made over the last few years (remember HabitatUK?) .

UCC decided to do a social media “campaign” (side note: I hate social media campaigns: social media is a commitment, not a campaign) called UCC “Good Coffee Smile” (gotta love the way Japanese companies use English in their slogans!), which in essence was a contest to get people writing essays and making art about coffee for a potential prize of $20,000. Nothing wrong with this, right? Exactly. But they tried to use a social media channel, Twitter, in a way that social media was never intended for: to randomly broadcast their message in large volumes by essentially spamming innocent Twitter users. They used an automated program so that, if someone tweeted keywords like “coffee” or “contest”, UCC would immediately send an @Reply to each user with a preset advertisement tweet related to their contest.

If this isn’t spam, what is?

It didn’t take long before many Twitter users who received these @Replies started complaining on Twitter that they were being spammed by UCC. And two hours after the campaign had started, UCC stopped and issued an apology on their campaign’s website in a letter, where they basically admitted that they violated the rules of using Twitter. Even though this happened on February 5, the event is still fresh in my mind as I write this to you on February 19.

So what can companies and professionals learn from UCC Coffee’s Twitter mistake?

1) Listen and Understand Social Media Before You Implement

Obviously UCC Coffee understood how Twitter worked as a broadcast tool but not how Twitter worked in the realm of social media. Social media was developed for everyday people like you and me to avoid the types of corporate broadcasts like the type that UCC Coffee was doing. UCC Coffee should have listened and understood Twitter or hire a social media strategist like myself to help them understand an effective way to use it. The message for any of my potential clients or professionals is the same: listen before you implement.

2) Beware of Automation Tools

Twitter has an open API (Application Programming Interface), which has allowed a plethora of 3rd party services to be created offering both free and paid applications to help you manage your Twitter account. Some of these services allow you to automate things like sending out Direct Messages when someone follows you or automatically following people who tweet out a keyword. I always say if there is something that can help you automate what you can do manually in social media in the same fashion, you absolutely should use it so that you can concentrate on creating and sharing valuable content. The problem, though, is that there are some things that you can’t automate in social media, like human communication. When considering automation tools, think real hard as to if it makes sense or not. Obviously, too much automation and Twitter will restrict your account.

3) Don’t Spam Social Media Users

When you send an @Reply message to someone that you do not know, you are risking that that person will report your potentially innocent tweet as spam to Twitter as well as block you from ever being able to follow you or see your tweets in their timeline. Furthermore, just as you can see spam users, they can broadcast your spam for the world to see. Is it really worth the risk? I didn’t think so.

4) Don’t Rush Into Social Media

A lot of companies, for whatever reason, are rushing into social media by creating Facebook Fan Pages that nobody friends or Twitter accounts that have no followers. Take your time: the golden rule in social media is you are never too late. Rush yourself and the potential damage from doing wrong and being perceived as an unpopular brand is far greater than that of doing right.

5) Monitor in Real-Time

The one thing that UCC Coffee did do correctly was to monitor the situation in realtime: they closed down this campaign only two hour after it started. All companies need to be monitoring their social media presence for a variety of reasons. If you are embarking on a social media “campaign”, it is a no-brainer to start using Google Alerts. However, you may want to start looking at investing in enterprise-grade social media monitoring tools like Scoutlabs, Alterian, or Radian6 to not just monitor mentions but also monitor sentiment and do analysis on a whole lot more. If you join the Windmill Networking Facebook Fan Page, you can see that today I posted news of Alterian’s next free webinar. Don’t have time for any of this? Hire a social media consultant like myself to do the grunt work for you.

6) When You Make a Social Media Etiquette Mistake, the Word Spreads Virally…and Globally

Every Twitter user who tweeted back at UCC Coffee to stop spamming them spread that message to all of their followers. Some of their followers may have ReTweeted it to their followers. And so on. All it takes is someone who speaks both Japanese and English like myself to tweet about this in English and you now have a global phenomenon. Social media is global. I learned this the hard way when I tweeted out a chance for bloggers to get a free review copy of my LinkedIn book; imagine when one of the tweets I received was from someone in the UK (who, I should add, was nice enough to help donate a few pounds to help cover the postage)! Social media knows no borders: take that into consideration into however you plan to use it.

Have you noticed any company’s making major social media mistakes recently? Any other lessons that you personally took away from this report on UCC Coffee? Please share!

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Very useful anecdote, I think, as marketers are trying to feel their way around social marketing and CRM. They even did a little bit of what we could call “segmentation” and “targeting” then, by focusing on those whose tweets involved coffee.

    So what should they have done instead on Twitter?

    I don’t imagine there is a list or any set of key influencers that coffee lovers follow. So, probably the place to start would have been with some TV commercial that entices coffee lovers to follow the UCC Twitterer for a chance to participate / share in this social campaign.

    Then they might take the subset of those who click on hyperlinks in the Tweets back to the website and register as their most loyal fans or most engaged participants. And they might get those folks to Tweet to their own networks by giving them something to share.

    Facilitating conversations, is what the marketer is supposed to do on social media, they say. But, boy, is that easier said than done or what!


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