Twitter is one of the great and most curious trends of our time. On the one hand, it has the power to drive huge political change and social awareness – as its use in the Egyptian revolution and the recent #BringBackOurGirls campaign have highlighted. On the other hand, it can also be a hotbed of bad/tasteless/downright offensive jokes, pointless musings about breakfast and endless opportunities for brands and individuals to embarrass themselves on an international stage.
Among the latest to discover this was UKip, which this week saw a campaign encouraging supporters to share their stories go badly wrong. It tried to start a hashtag #WhyImVotingUkip to raise awareness of its policies. And while it started innocuously enough, it soon turned into a tidal wave of mockery, with thousands of respondents offering cheeky suggestions from 'Because I'm really angry about Eurovision' to 'Because the weather's really starting to pick up, and I don't want it ruined by gays.'
Of course, Ukip is far from the first organisation to discover the perils and pitfalls of Twitter – and with it being so easy for people to make their views heard from their phone wherever they are, it won't be the last. So here's a quick rundown of some of the most common errors committed on the social networking site.
Trying to get a hashtag trending is always fraught with danger on Twitter, and Ukip might perhaps have been advised to take heed of the experiencing of other controversial organisations before jumping in feet first. Last year, for instance, some PR guru at British Gas thought the best way to connect with customers was through a friendly Q&A session, promoted with the hashtag #AskBG – just after it announced yet another price hike.
Predictably, the internet had other ideas, and the brand was soon fielding queries like 'which items of furniture do you, in your humble opinion, think people should burn first this winter?' and 'have you found a way to channel angry customer feedback into electricity?'
I'm following who?
Knowing who to follow on Twitter – and what to tweet about – can always be a bit of a minefield, and it's one politicians in particular seem to wander into with staggering regularity. David Cameron, for instance, has history with this, as the accounts he follows have included a spoof account pretending to be Iain Duncan-Smith and, for some reason, an escort agency.
Picking the right image for your tweet can easily go very wrong, as Cameron also discovered when a 'serious' photo of him on the phone to President Obama went viral and was much-mocked. Even Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, took time out to get involved, posting an image of him looking very serious, while talking into a pack of wet wipes.
Careless use of photos has also gotten more than a few brands into trouble – such as when US Airways somehow managed to retweet an extremely graphic pornographic picture to its thousands of followers. And apparently, no-one suggested to Luton Airport that promoting their brand with an image of a plane crash might not have been the best idea.
The world is watching
Of course, it's not just companies that sometimes fail to grasp what Twitter involves – and the rule of thumb that you shouldn't post anything you wouldn't want your grandmother or boss to see seems to get lost on many people. In the best-case scenario, you just look a bit of a fool, but in the worst occasions, you can shoot your whole career in the foot.
One famous example of this was the South African marketing executive who decided to tweet a racist joke just before getting on a transatlantic flight. Naturally it went viral and by the time she'd landed, she'd already lost her job.
Leave it, it's not worth it
For some reason it seems no-one gets into an argument on Twitter – it's always a 'spat'. And squabbling in public is never a good idea at the best of times, even before you consider hundreds of thousands of people may be watching you embarrass yourself. Yet countless celebrities seem unable to stop themselves always coming back to try and get the last word.
Whether its Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan reigniting their long-running feud, Miley Cyrus and Sinead O'Connor sniping at each other or Lily Allen getting riled by professional outrage machine Katie Hopkins, it seems no-one can resist airing their views on Twitter – and dignity is usually the first thing to go out of the window when they do so.