Twitter #Fail: Lionel Messi, Social Rookies and a PR Disaster

Photo: (Alberto Estevez/European Pressphoto Agency)


I have blogged about this for years, but about the dumbest thing that you can do in any organization is what many continue to do:  hand the keys to the social media apparatus to the youngest (and clearly, the one who understands social media – not) person in the office.  I wish I had kept count of how many interns end up running social because they happen to have Snapchat on their phones and a clearly the experts.

I could list the myriad reasons why this is just such a stupid idea, but it helps me prove my point when large organizations keep making fundamental mistakes using digital.  And I mean ROOKIE mistakes that the Interwebs smash back in your face only to create the exact opposite of what you had intended.  A PR disaster of your own making.

One of the most popular pieces that I have ever written was a 2012 rebuttal to someone who claimed that “Every Social Media Manager Should be Under the Page of 25.”  Thanks again for the publicity, Catherine, but in 2016, we are still making the same mistakes.

The latest example of this played out last week, when Barcelona FC, one of the best (and most profitable) soccer football clubs in the WORLD took stupidity to the next level and created the #WeAreAllLeoMessi campaign.

What Happened to Lionel Messi

As a brief backgrounder, Lionel Messi is one of, if not THE best soccer football player on the planet.  Mr. Messi’s genius does not seem to apply to his (pardon the pun) “messy” accounting when it comes to paying his taxes.  You see, already a Zillionaire, Mr. Messi seemed to forget to pay more than FIVE MILLION EUROS in back taxes to the Spanish government.  Oops.

Can We Have Some Gray Hair in the Room Please?

You see, anyone even with PR 101 skills would say nothing, issue a “no comment” (this is a personal matter for him and the team should not be communicating about his taxes dodging issues), or at best, if forced to, issue a short press release to the effect of “We are glad that this matter is behind us and Mr. Messi can focus his full attention on our upcoming season.”  Nope.

You Can’t Fix Stupid, But You Should

At some point, someone raised their hand and said, in the middle on European anxiety over their economies post Brexit, “I HAVE A GREAT IDEA. Let’s launch a Twitter campaign designed to drum up support for Leo.”  Whomever in that room said “yes,” or “SÍ” should be publicly flogged.

Here’s what the Barcelona Football Club tweeted:


So instead of the first rule of crisis communications, which is to AVOID THE CRISIS, someone inside the communications shop of one of the most profitable enterprises on Earth did the opposite and decided to ask the masses to support a man who made 36 MILLION EUROS last year and “forgot” to pay taxes.  That nearly 40 MILLION US DOLLARS.  That’s right.  In one year.  Their plea read:

“[T]he campaign is encouraging all Barça fans to express their sympathy for the greatest footballer in the world by voicing their unconditional support on social networks,” the club said. “By making it clear that #WeAreAllMessi, we want Leo to know that he is not alone.”

So let’s all rally around a dude who made more than many corporations last year and oops, forgot to stroke a check to the Spanish tax authorities.  Insert Homer Simpson “D’oh.”

The Backlash

People all over Twitter reacted as as a reasonable or even mediocre communications professional would expect, and that is with blind indignation over the club asking people to support a guy who dodged more in taxes last year than most of us will make in a lifetime.



and this is my personal favorite:

The Lesson That Never Seems to Get Learned

One would have thought that sports organizations that lead with their Twitter chins would have learned from such stupendous flameouts such as the #AskJameis Twitter Q&A which Deadspin called “A Predictable Mess,” that when

Famous Jameis

Famous Jameis

you have an athlete, celebrity or otherwise who has a checkered background (um, sexual assault allegations and crab leg shoplifting charges), you might not want to idiotically open up your organization to public opinion and seem 100% out of touch.

A seasoned communications professional, when he or she picked themselves up off of the floor laughing, would then have fired the person who came up with the idea. Yet many organizations continue to hand the social media and digital keys to inexperienced people who may know how to USE the tools in their personal worlds, but don’t know the damnedest thing about communications in the professional world.  SOCIAL MEDIA IS COMMUNICATIONS.  And increasingly, is crisis communications.

Keep doing it, guys.  Maybe someone will eventually get a clue.




  1. […] written about online crisis communications for several years (like here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here), but United Airlines last week proved YET AGAIN that social media […]

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