Bing Tries to Help Japan on Twitter, Walks into a PR Nightmare

Bing has been getting crucified for its March 12th tweet asking followers to retweet their post in exchange for a $1 donation to help victims of the devastation in Japan.

The early Saturday morning tweet from @bing said “How can you #SupportJapan — For every retweet, bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

The fallout from this seemingly well-intentioned tweet was fast and furious, with celebrity Michael Ian Black leading the charge by tweeting “Hey bing, stop using a tragedy as a f—king marketing opportunity.” Within an hour, an unprintable #hashtag involving the F-word and “You” and Bing was circulating, never reaching trending topic status but still getting some serious Twitter traction.

A full seven hours later, which is pretty ridiculous amount of time in social media PR-response world, Bing tweeted an apology, saying “We apologize the tweet was negatively perceived. Intent was to provide an easy way for people to help Japan. We have donated $100K.”

Of course, the apology provided additional fodder for tweeters:

@cybercool10: “*ahem**cough**idiots**cough* RT @dollars5: Microsoft apologizes for using Japan disaster to market Bing”

So what went wrong?

It’s plainly obvious that Bing was trying to do the right thing and had every intention of donating the $100k to relief efforts.  The backlash seemed to focus on two aspects of the situation:  $100,000 isn’t a large amount coming from an insanely profitable company like Microsoft, and also that people shouldn’t have to spread a brand name around in exchange for donations.

It’s tough to see such a known charitable organization get taken to the wall for responding to an international crisis with an easy way to participate in the donation process.  But anything that even remotely reeks of self-promotion is going to fail, and in a very public way. Just ask Kenneth Cole.  Microsoft should have known better, but more importantly, they should have been monitoring the responses and reacted rapidly once the misstep became apparent.

The lessons here are simple:  If you’re going to go public with your organization’s donation efforts, let people spread the news and increase the donation amount in a manner that spreads word of the cause – not word of you brand.  And if you start to sense a backlash, retreat, apologize, and do it quickly.  It’s ok to make mistakes but there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle them.