© Afbeelding van Thomas Ulrich via Pixabay

This week, the entire world was stunned by the massive breakdown at the social media giant Facebook. Journalists immediately went in search of the causes, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on the ropes after this double blow to his reputation – for the breakdown came shortly after shocking revelations by a former employee about his company’s practices. 


But the Facebook collapse (joined, in a package deal, by those of Instagram and WhatsApp) created a particularly fascinating spectacle on that other major social media platform – Twitter. Aside from the fact that the three big brands of the Facebook empire were forced to report their problems on a competing platform, the collapse also opened opportunities for social media managers of a slew of other big companies to step into the limelight. And that little game produced some extraordinary and, at times, witty insights. 

It was Twitter itself that set the ball rolling. When it noticed that everyone started tweeting about its competitors’ problems, the company’s official account posted an amusing tweet. In moments like these, it requires real skill to avoid lapsing into an overdose of “Schadenfreude” – a trap which the social media manager gracefully avoided with the message: “hello literally everyone”.  

What was so good about that tweet? For a start, it did not make fun of the competition’s problems. Even on a platform such as Twitter, where sarcasm is rampant, a company must continue to safeguard its reputation. Laughing at other people’s misery is not the best idea. The tone and style of the tweet – neither capitals nor punctuation – also perfectly fit with Twitter’s typical style. You may think that, of all companies, Twitter knows how to communicate on Twitter, but it is admirable that the company pushed the right buttons in this situation as well.  

The best measure of how skilfully this tweet was put together are the numbers. The tweet reached up to half a million likes in just fifteen minutes, and barely four hours later the counter registered 2.4 million “hearts”. A rare success for a tweet posted by a faceless company account. 

Even more fascinating was what happened afterwards, as reactions to the tweet started pouring in. It turned into a clumsy dance of multiple company accounts vying for a piece of the pie. Some did a better job than others. McDonald’s, for example, cleverly jumped on the bandwagon and sparked a witty conversation with Twitter’s account about a large order of “nuggets”, as you can see below. 

McDonald’s was not an involved party in this server outage. By engaging in a light-hearted, satirical conversation with Twitter, the burger chain did not step on anyone’s toes. The result: on-lookers were amused by this interaction, and McDonald’s scored some sympathy points. Well played, we say. 

Others were somewhat less subtle, and the question remains whether they got away with their attempts. Netflix, for example, chose to launch a “meme” based on an image from its new hit series “Squid Game”. A questionable decision, perhaps, given the series’ rather sinister plot. Moreover, explicitly capitalising on this sort of event for marketing ends does not make you look very sympathetic.

And finally, other company accounts missed a golden opportunity to keep a low profile – and this is particularly true of WhatsApp. While its service was completely paralysed, Whatsapp’s social media manager apparently thought it would be a good idea to lighten up the situation by responding to Twitter’s tweet with a waving hand-emoji and the word “hello!”. Not quite the sort of message you want to send when the whole world expects you to get your service back on track as soon as possible. This is also demonstrated by the fact that people responded to WhatsApp’s tweet with the message “fix yourself”.  

Risk of reputation damage

The moral of the story? Scoring points on social media with a corporate account is always tricky. Social media is a world of personalities, which is already difficult to reconcile with corporate profiles. In an age where the slightest misstep can lead to a storm of outrage, you must take into consideration almost every word in advance to avoid the risk of reputational damage. If you do it right, you can score some sympathy points. But those can be fleeting, too. A good understanding of the platform on which you’re operating, including the required toneofvoice and style, can go a long way.