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Chipotle, a rapidly growing burritos and taco chain, is known for its tongue-in-cheek use of social media. However, their latest stunt has been seen as both a success and a stumble by marketers and social media consultants.

Last week, Chipotle sent out a string of random tweets on their company Twitter account that left many followers bewildered. Even on outlets such as the popular video show / podcast This Week in Google, there was discussion over whether the tweets were a mistake by a Chipotle social media admin just yesterday. While bone-headed, this is easy to do using dashboard suites such as Hootsuite as companies such as the American Red Cross have found out the hard way. Another possibility was that the account was “hacked,” which can happen with larger brands (such as Jeep and Burger King earlier this year) or personalities and normally results in press and voyeuristic following increases.

Instead, Chipotle now admits the tweets were a strategically thought-out part of their 20th anniversary campaign.

Chipotle Faked Its Twitter Hack | Mashable: “We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people’s attention and make them talk, and it did that,” Chris Arnold, a Chipotle representative, told Mashable in an interview. “It was definitely thought out: We didn’t want it to be harmful or hateful or controversial.”

From a marketing perspective, this is a very tight wire to walk. People love puzzles figuring things out (let’s all remember Lost). However, we’ve seen evidence time and again that deceptive marketing (even tongue-in-cheek) can have the opposite of the desired effects.

Chipotle’s marketing rep confirms as much:

Regardless of the reception of the fake hack, Arnold says it’s unlikely Chipotle will pull a similar stunt anytime in the future.

“It’s certainly not a well you can go to often,” he says.

Chipotle needed attention and got that.

Should you think of doing similar campaigns with your business social media accounts to get an influx of new followers or attention?

If you’re a large company with a relatively well-known brand and established user base, it can be a tempting way to get easy publicity. If you’re a small company, absolutely don’t even think about such a tactic.

Marketing (especially on social media) is an investment of time and effort. Your time to come up with campaigns (be they months in advance or on the fly ideas such as Oreo’s outstanding Super Bowl Blackout campaign). There is also an investment from your followers and potential followers involved in social media marketing.

Whereas acquisition of followers or attention is important for large brands like Chipotle, acquisition is a more valuable metric for small businesses that are still growing. Such marketing tactics threaten your acquisition numbers if you’re still growing your brand.

About the Author Sam Harrelson

Digital Marketing and Technology Consultant and Podcaster at Thinking.FM

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