Social Justice: Chipotle’s Pathetic Misuse of Social Media

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There are some weeks when there are so many topics to choose from for our Social Justice post that I don’t know where to start. This week we had:

The story of Carl Ashmore, his book The Time Hunters, and the question of Harper Collin’s possible copying his book, title and ideas.

The emerging story of a UK Twitter backlash after a feminist campaigner faced threats of physical violence and rape.

I will be following both of those stories this week, but with the story of  Chipotle trying to garner attention in one of the most ill-advised schemes I’ve witnessed recently, I could not resist dissecting the marketing implications of what happens when a company tries to fool its followers to bring attention to its brand.

Apparently, someone in Chipotle’s Marketing Department thought they’d try to increase awareness off their brand by mimicking a Twitter hacking.

The Chipotle Fake Hack

On July 21st Chipotle’s Twitter Account sent out the following tweets:

Chipotle fake Twitter hack

The tweets made it appear as if the Chipotle’s Twitter account had been hacked.  The company later admitted that it was all a publicity stunt and claimed that it was all part of their 20 day campaign treasure hunt named “Adventurito.”

Chipotle Communications Director Chris Arnold told Mashable,

“We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people’s attention and make them talk, and it did that.”

He then admitted

“It was definitely thought out: We didn’t want it to be harmful or hateful or controversial…We thought that it really fit well within the context of our 20th anniversary promotion where we were putting clues in all sorts of things. We had clues pop up in a lot of places and thought that incorporating something into our social media presence would fit well into that promotion.”

The Social Media Reaction to the Chipotle Fake Hack

During the short lived faux hacking episode, it didn’t take long for Twitter users to figure out what was going on.  Some users assumed the tweeter was drunk or hungover, and others immediately asked:

“LOL did @ChipotleTweets get hacked?”

One of the strikingly un-clever fake-hacked tweets claiming: “Found it!”  was retweeted 261 times and favorite 171 times.

Compared to the follower reaction to most of their standard tweets, the engagement level to their ‘fake hack tweets’ was high.    The company also added 4000 to its +200K following;  a much faster rate of growth compared to the 250 or so per day the company usually draws.

Chipotle’s Facebook Page already has a following of over 2 million.  It’s refreshing to see that on their ‘comments by others’ section they have a huge percentage of positive feedback; many brands would love to have the level of positive engagement the chain enjoys.

There were, however, a few posters not happy with the fake twitter hacking.  When called out by a fan who posted a story about the Fake Hack on their page, Chipotle’s answer was:

… it was not about the followers but a clue in our Adventurrito puzzle for Monday. Thanks for asking, hope you have a wonderful day!

Overall and compared to the type of Social Media debacles we’ve covered in this series, the reaction by followers and fans was tepid.  There were a couple of angry tweets and one cry of “Lame” on Facebook. Chipotle gained a small amount of Twitter followers and didn’t move the needle at all on their Facebook Page.

A Marketer’s Questions for Chipotle

The biggest buzz Chipotle gleaned from their ‘stunt’ was from business and marketing bloggers and journalists disgusted by the fake hacking.  I came across the story on one of my friend’s Facebook page, as the entire marketing world appeared cringe with embarrassment.  The following articles sprung up online:

Was Chipoltle’s Fake Twitter Hack a Flop?

Someone Please Actually Hack Chipoltle’s Twitter Account

 Most people, upon hearing Chris Arnold’s explanation, where befuddled.  There were some choice responses, including:

Chipotle response

As a Marketer I shared in the disgust.  What is most disappointing is that THIS is the kind of pathetic, unimaginative gimmick that gives Marketers a bad name; Danny Brown’s post The problem with Marketing is that it’s Full of Marketers rang in my ears.

And I have a few questions for Chris Arnold:

First question: Does Chipotle really think ALL publicity is good publicity?    That had to be the thinking if they were willing to try to trick their followers.

Second question: Is the Chipotle Marketing Department really so devoid of creativity that pretending to be hacked was the most creative thing they could come up with?  How does the same team that created Adventurio come up with this?

Third question: Did you have a plan for the reaction?  The answers by Chipotle, having to explain the reasoning behind the trick, make it appear that they weren’t  prepared to be found out.

Fourth question: How does faking a Twitter hacking speak to your Brand?

In 2012 FastCompany put Chipotle on its 50 Most Innovative Companies list; does anyone really think a fake Twitter hacking is innovative?

Was the Fake Hacking Worth it for Chipotle?

Chilpote did add 4000 followers to their Twitter account, but with an account already over 200K, can that really be considered a success?  More importantly, will those new, rubber necking followers stay and moreChipotle Jiveimportantly, purchase?

Again we are back to the core question all marketing is supposed to bring us to:

Did the Twitter hack move the sales needle?

What was the GOAL?  By now, don’t marketers understand that simply increasing the number of followers does not gain you sales or brand advocates?

The bigger question is: What happens when your followers no longer trust you?

Transparency is one of the main reasons for social media’s success.  Consumers were sick to death of being marketed to, and social media allowed them to cut out all of the middlemen and communicate directly with a brand.

Building a social media following is supposed to be about building trust with your customers.  How does it make your followers feel when you try to ‘trick them’ into paying more attention to your company?

Chipotle already had a successful campaign going with their Adventurito campaign – fans were responding to posts and asking questions.   This fake-hack gimmick did earn them some attention and the disdain of quite a few marketers, but not much else.

If the goal of Chris Arnold and his team was simply to draw attention to the brand by any means necessary, well then, kudos to him, because by that measurement the fake hack was a success.

But if the goal was to bring positive, lasting attention to Chipotle and encourage customers to buy, well then, it was just a meaningless, soon to be forgotten gimmick.

VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany's Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.

8 thoughts on “Social Justice: Chipotle’s Pathetic Misuse of Social Media

  1. hessiej says:

    Amy, this post reminds me of those typical marketers who “test” mediums to determine impact on brand or sales. While social media is also a medium, it is NOT one that you can test this type of content and expect it will have minimal results. I’m especially dumbfounded why the marketers at Chipotle, who contend that this was a well thought-out scheme, actually did not anticipate the potential downside or even the lasting effects. Time will tell.
    Social Media is not a game. You cannot game social and expect to achieve a sustainable or credible presence on this channel. You may gain followers in the short term, but as you’ve noted, at what expense? Reputation is everything these days and if you’ve lost a little credibility, it will impact your bottom line eventually.

    • AmyMccTobin says:

      hessiej Well, in fairness to Chris Arnold, he called it ‘thought out,’ not well thought out.  It reminds me of tricky subject lines on email marketing programs – once you open the email to discover that the brand has tricked you into thinking the subject would be different than it is, well, then how does your recipient feel?
      I hope that the  hubub around it makes companies think twice before using these sort of ‘fool them’ for attention tactics.

  2. dbvickery says:

    Considering one of your concluding statements – “it was just a meaningless, soon to be forgotten gimmick.” – no real harm done in this experiment, right?
    Could they have been more creative and less disingenuous, you betcha. But most consumers, even the socially connected ones, will not bat an eye.

    • AmyMccTobin says:

      dbvickery Nope, they won’t bat an eye, except for the few who did at the time. But if this is the best your marketing folks have, well then, my guess is that you need help.

  3. Andi Roo says:

    I’m no marketer, so my opinion may be taken with a grain of salt… but I found the experiment cute and clever. I love to see companies involved in their social media and using it to engage with followers, and to me, that’s exactly what this was. Not trying to be argumentative, but I fail to see how this was a negative incident.

    • AmyMccTobin says:

      Andi Roo All opinions are welcome here Andi, so don’t fret about that.    To me, the point of social media’s connection to its consumers is transparency… trying to fake a hack isn’t creative at all in my mind. Oreo’s use of the black out during the Super Bowl – now THAT was clever.

      • Andi Roo says:

        AmyMccTobin OMG, totally agree about the Oreo / Super Bowl thing! That was ultra cool, no doubt. And on that note, omw to get some Double Stuffs…

  4. […] to wait out the storm, be careful not to fan the flames, and let the story exhaust itself (think Chipotle fake twitter hack).  Sometimes, organizations are hit so hard that they stumble to recover as in the case of the […]

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