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Advice for the Twitter Professional at US Airways Who Tweeted Hardcore Porn

"US Airways wasn't trending nationwide before they sent an angry customer a photo of a toy plane inside a vagina."

by Harry Cheadle
Apr 14 2014, 9:15pm

OK, now imagine this plane is much smaller and there is a woman putting it in her vagina—that's what @USAirways tweeted. Photo via Flickr user James Willamor

Late last night, someone was complaining to US Airways about a bad experience she had had with that airline. This is an entirely normal thing to do—as much as 75 percent of Twitter’s content is users bitching about airlines being awful and the airlines’ corporate Twitter accounts apologizing and asking the dissatisfied customers to fill out online complaint forms. The person running the @USAirways account followed the script when responding this afternoon, apologizing profusely and politely. Then @USAirways tweeted an extraordinarily graphic picture of a naked woman holding her legs up and apart to reveal a model airplane jammed rather immodestly into her vagina. That was not a normal thing to do. Here's how the exchange went:

THEN THERE WAS A FUCKING PHOTO OF A LADY WITH A PLANE IN HER JUNK. (Link here, but it's NSFW because it's the kind of weird, vaguely funny porn that no one even masturbates to.)

Amazingly, that photo stayed online FOR A FUCKING HOUR while everyone on Twitter was like “lol” and “wtf” and “smh” and “haha now we know where Flight 370 is right? oh shit too soon my bad.” Then US Airways was like, “We apologize for an inappropriate image recently shared as a link in one of our responses. We’ve removed the tweet and are investigating,” as if there were a black box recording of a twentysomething hitting Command-V in the wrong text box, or as if there were some kind of vast conspiracy to make everyone look at a picture of some lady having carnal relations with a toy.

To see what kind of #SocialMedia and #Branding lessons could be drawn from this incident, I talked to Hanson O’Haver, the VICE Social Editor—a.k.a. the guy who runs the @VICE Twitter account.

VICE: What did the person running the US Airways do wrong? Or did they do anything wrong?
Hanson O’Haver: Well, I did a little digging and it looks like the image they posted actually came from this tweet:

[NSFW, obviously.]

If you delete a tweet where you uploaded a photo, the link would be dead, so you can tell it originates from someone else's account, not @USAirways.

What probably happened is that they were tweeted that link, copy/pasted it to send around for laughs or for some HR report, and then went to reply to the other person's comment. They just pasted in the link and didn't realize that the link they had meant to use hadn't copied.

OK, and from a social media point of view, if you're running a corporate Twitter account, do you generally want to tweet images of hardcore, graphic pornography? Or is that more of a social media “don't”?
I mean, yeah, that's generally looked down upon by clients. But in terms of increasing engagement, it's certainly effective. Put it this way: US Airways wasn't trending nationwide before they sent an angry customer a photo of a toy plane inside a vagina.

What advice would you give the US Airways Twitter guy, as one Twitter professional to another?
I think the most important thing here is to deflect the blame. From the inside it's going to be pretty clear that posting the photo wasn't an experimental social media strategy, so what they want to do is find someone else who's at fault. For example, maybe if their agency would hire some more social media professionals they wouldn't be so sloppy. And also: If the airlines didn't keep everyone waiting all the time and didn't offer such terrible service, they wouldn't need to have people responding to complaints on the internet.

That said, they can also point out that it's already been written about by BuzzFeed.

As in, like, “It's not so bad! Look at all the press we're getting!”
Yeah, exactly, I mean, “All publicity is good publicity” doesn't really work as a slogan in the airline industry, but you've gotta play the cards you're dealt.

Is “trying to not get fired because of a typo/screwup” a big part of a Twitter professional's job?
It's a huge part. No one's ever like, “Good job, Hanson, you spelled Transnistria right!" But you spell Colombia as Columbia and 300 people notice.

The whole week Obama ordered that raid on Osama bin Laden, I was terrified I'd write “Obama bin Laden” or something.

And you can get fired over shit like that, right? You think the guy or gal in charge of @USAirways still has a job?
I mean I think I'd be OK? VICE understands that mistakes happen. But @USAirways probably has a different Twitter person right now, yes.

Any advice for aspiring Twitter professionals? Any lessons they should learn from this?
I guess just double-check your links? And don't let mistakes stop you from getting back out there.

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.