August 23, 2013

A Recap of the Chipotle Twitter Hack: Pros and Cons

Chipotle recently admitted to tweeting a handful of confusing and nonsensical messages on purpose. At the time, it appeared that Chipotle’s account had been hacked, but the tweets were actually clues in an ongoing promotion called Adventurrito, a 20-day-long scavenger hunt featuring 20 puzzles to celebrate Chipotle’s 20th anniversary.

Is faking your own Twitter hack really the way to #CutThru? Chris Arnold, Communications Director and Official Spokesman for Chipotle, thinks so: “We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people’s attention and make them talk, and it did that.” But what does it all mean? 

PROS: 

Brands are now owning the Twitter hack.

It started with the real hacks on the Burger King and Jeep Twitter accounts. Then, MTV and BET employed a fake hack as a publicity stunt to attract followers. Now, Chipotle has taken the fake-hack to a new level by using it to spread the word about a special promotion.

Chipotle played and won.

Just look at the charts in this report. Chipotle made “getting hacked” work in its favor; it was not an embarrassing situation calling for ridicule, as Twitter security breaches usually are. The company attracted publicity and earned 4,000 new followers on the day of the hack, compared to its usual 250 followers per day. And the hack got people to know about Adventurrito.

Chipotle came away practically unscathed.

The increase in Chipotle’s followers and the thousands of retweets of the “hacked” tweets suggest that Chipotle’s followers were unshaken by the stunt. One writer wrote a piece titled “Chipotle’s Twitter Hack was Fake and I Ain’t Even Mad.” Perhaps customers didn’t have negative feelings towards the brand because it owned up to its motives. 

CONS:

Self-hacking compromises brand authenticity.

Rick Liebling, creative culturalist at Y&R, brings up a good point in his tweet about authenticity in social media:

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Chipotle may have acted off-brand, tarnishing its “authenticity.” But in doing so, it boosted its social footprint. Influencer Francisco Dao was recently quoted in an article saying, “The only community you need to worry about are the people who buy what you’re selling.” It looks like growth trumped authenticity in this case.

Self-hacking takes advantage of the audience.

Social business strategist Andy White, asks, “What is social without trust?” Chipotle may have compromised the trust it earned from its fans and lowered sentiment. Some even say that Chipotle “is killing social“ because it manipulated its audience. Chipotle made customers actively complicit in the stunt; the company needed only post 12 tweets and wait for the hype to begin. 

Let’s hope that if brands try this kind of stunt in the future they remember that while it’s good to win on social, it’s important that the customers don’t lose.