Worst Twitter campaign ever? Microsoft uses Japanese disaster to boost Bing.

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Microsoft committed one of the worst blunders in social networking marketing when it launched a Twitter campaign several days ago using the horrific disaster in Japan as a way to boost Bing. To its eventual credit, Microsoft apologized and donated money to Japanese disaster relief. But what was the company thinking when it launched the campaign?

On March 12, a day after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Microsoft's Bing Twitter account posted this tweet:

How you can #SupportJapan - http://binged.it/fEh7iT. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.

Try Bing. A new way to search, explore, & decide

How many things are wrong with that tweet? For a start, using a horrific disaster in which 10,000 people or more were killed as a way to boost a brand is unseemly at best. Venture Beat points out that Comedian Michael Black that same day sent out this tweet to his 1.6 million followers:

Hey @bing, stop using a tragedy as a [expletive deleted] marketing opportunity.

Black wasn't alone; plenty of other people felt the same way, and with good reason. Microsoft should be commended for deciding to donate money to relief --- but why decide to peg the amount of human suffering you want to help alleviate to the number of retweets of a post? Do people in Japan deserve less help because 25,000 people retweeted a post rather than 100,000?

Beyond that is the sheer crassness of using the disaster to promote a brand.

As Network World notes, Microsoft apologized in a tweet seven hours later:

We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K.

Microsoft should be commended for donating the money and for apologizing. And the link it sent out in its original tweet was a useful one as well, because it led to the Microsoft Corporate Citizenship page that tells people how they can donate to help the people of Japan.

And, as the page shows, Microsoft is actually donating much more than $100,000. The page says:

To help support ongoing relief efforts, Microsoft is making an initial commitment of $2 million, which includes $250,000 in cash as well as in-kind contributions such as software.

So Microsoft clearly has its heart in the right place. But the way in which over-aggressive marketers used Twitter was a social marketing failure.

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