Battlefield Twitter: When Companies Take Their Fights Public

Photograph by Transier Transier/Getty Images

Celebrities are often known to get into Twitter wars, but what about companies? Well, it turns out that otherwise tight-lipped corporate reps and execs also vent their annoyances and even engage in public tiffs, too.

“They are taking the concept of competitive advertising to Twitter,” says Gerard Corbett, chairman and chief executive of the Public Relations Society of America. “I think it’s fine as long as it doesn’t escalate. It’s an interesting way to generate buzz and some awareness, and entertain some of your best customers.” Even if things get nasty, he adds, “most tweets have a short shelf life.” Here are a few highlights from the Twitter battlefield (some have edited for clarity):

1. Taco Bell vs. Old Spice
Regarding Taco Bell’s fire sauce:
Old Spice: Why is it that “fire sauce” isn’t made with any real fire? Seems like false advertising.
Taco Bell: @OldSpice Is your deodorant made with really old spices?
Old Spice: @TacoBell Depends. Do you consider volcanos, tanks and freedom to be spices?

2. Viacom vs. DirecTV
After DirecTV drops Viacom channels on July 10:
DirecTV: We can’t believe it’s now Day 4 [of the blackout]
Viacom: It’s actually Day 3. More fuzzy numbers from DirecTV!

3. Google vs. Microsoft
Google accuses Microsoft of stealing its search results for Bing:
Frank X. Shaw (Microsoft spokesman): 1. Don’t be fooled. Google wants to change subject because they’re under investigation in the US and Europe for manipulating search results. 2. Google collects customer data from Chrome and Android. Pot calling kettle black?
Matt Cutts (head of Google’s webspam team): So far Bing’s response seems to be “We don’t copy Google’s results. Of course we do.” vs. … we created those arbitrary synthetic results, and they later appeared on Bing. Timeline is clear.

4. Dell CEO Michael Dell vs. HP
HP announces plans to get out of the PC business:
Michael Dell: Goodbye HP, Sorry you don’t want to be in PCs anymore..But we do more than ever. How would you say goodbye to HP?
HP: Not so fast @MichaelDell. We are still the #1 PC manufacturer in the world. Our team remains 100% committed
Michael Dell: PC business 100% committed to ownership change to new unknown owner(s) w/unknown strategy, on an unknown time frame
(Note: HP later decided to keep its PC division)

5. Walgreens vs. Express Scripts
After Walgreens drops pharmaceutical insurance company Express Scripts, saying it made a low-ball offer on prescription drug coverage rates:
Walgreens: It’s time to take a stand against @ExpressScripts. Tell them people want a choice by tweeting hashtag #ILoveWalgreens.
Express Scripts: On our negotiations with Walgreens… Fact 1: Walgreens unilaterally stated in June it would leave our network in January. Fact 2: Walgreens’ proposed rates/terms would make them the most expensive pharmacy in our network….Fact 6: The vast majority of our clients and members have already moved on, and more plan to do so.

6. Rupert Murdoch vs. Google
The media mogul, who has ranted on Twitter on several occasions, tweets in support of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA):
Rupert Murdoch: Piracy leader is Google who streams movies free, sells advts around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.
Google responds in a statement to CNET: This is just nonsense. Last year we took down 5 million infringing web pages from our search results and invested more than $60 million in the fight against bad ads… We fight pirates and counterfeiters every day.

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