top of page

PETA’s #Awkward Moment on Twitter Turns into a PR Nightmare

The use of social media marketing trends are effective, but only when used correctly.

By Jessica Alex

If PETA’s goal was to trend on Twitter, then mission accomplished. However, if it was to drum up support and #donations, I’m not sure if PETA succeeded.

This past weekend, while scrolling through the Twitterverse, I saw social media marketing trends being used in a way that seemed to have had an adverse effect. That would be PETA using newsjacking (as well as trendjacking) and automation — which are great tools if used correctly. In this case, PETA used Google Doodles’ homage to beloved wildlife conservationist Steve Irwin’s birthday. If you didn’t know he was beloved, you should have seen all the backlash that PETA received from its tweet.

Essentially PETA said in part (in the initial tweet):

“Steve Irwin was killed while harassing a [sting]ray;”

That did not sit well with the Twitterverse. Not only did PETA receive a barrage of angry and disparaging tweets (as if that weren’t bad enough), but also Twitter users realized that PETA was set up for automation. Again, automation can be a great tool, but not when it’s being used against you to embarrass your organization. Once people received the knowledge of their auto-reply, you started to see tweets like this:

Twitter users said things that went against PETA’s mission or to donate to other causes and inserted “#donate.” PETA’s auto-response in each case was:

“Thanks for your support! Complete your donation now:”

I did find a reply to one comment that seemed to be in real time, but that reply only resulted in more angry replies:

Someone even went as far as to change their Wikipedia page info: (Warning: this tweet uses offensive language.)

How do I feel about newsjacking (and/or trendjacking) and, more particularly, automation? Well, here’s what I wrote on my recent Instagram post:

As much as I talk about planning ahead when something comes up you gotta go with the flow. A well-known organization received some serious backlash over the weekend while using social media marketing trends like newsjacking, trendjacking and automation[.]
Oddly enough the other day I was thinking about the automation trend that we see often here on Instagram – comments that involve autobot 🤖 babble. How do I feel about it? I don’t fancy automation UNLESS it’s used correctly. (And I have the same opinion on newsjacking/trendjacking – use it wisely!) Have you ever noticed that some comments on your posts don’t match your photo/content? How do you feel about auto-replies?

What is the moral of this story? We all make mistakes, but it’s important to learn from them (and also from the mistakes of others). Some of the lessons here (from a marketing standpoint) are: (a) You don’t need to jump on every trending moment. Sometimes it’s best to sit back and think before tweeting — ask Puma why it recently deleted its jab tweet at Nike. And (b) Monitor your posts and comments. If someone had been monitoring PETA’s comment section, they would have realized that its #donate auto-reply came with a serious glitch — and they would have had an opportunity to adjust quickly. When you do choose to hit the “reply” button, make sure your answer is a thoughtful one.

I had to write this blog post, because if we don’t start reacting thoughtfully before jumping on trends, more organizations are going to face increased backlash like this. Don’t be one of those companies/organizations that don’t think before they tweet.


Here are some articles you may find helpful.




Links were updated on March 4, 2019


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
bottom of page