The horrendous events in Japan have created an unexpected problem for Microsoft and their search engine, Bing. Whilst trying to be generous and offering financial aid to Japan, someone in the marketing department thought it would be an idea to publicise the donation on Twitter, with a promise of a $1 donation per Retweet of the original message, up to a maximum of $100,000.

Whilst many Twitter users have been happy to RT, the inevitable has happened – the Twittersphere has erupted at the thought that Microsoft are attempting to cash in, and we are seeing a tsunami of bad PR.

Too many people feel that this is a somewhat crass moment to seek publicity, especially considering that the latest news appears to show that possibly many thousands of people have lost their lives. The growing feeling on Twitter is that Microsoft should just have donated the money, without seeking to promote the search engine at the same time as people are dying.

This is not the first time that a large company has attempted to cash in on a global crisis or breaking news story. It surely won’t be the last. But it should act as a salutory reminder to all marketing departments that it only takes 140 characters to create an unholy PR mess that could damage a brand reputation for a long time.

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About the author:

A practising internet marketing consultant since 1996, Lindsey Annison helps companies improve their website marketing, online PR and information architecture. Lindsey is also a qualified adult education lecturer and author. As co-founder of the Access to Broadband Campaign, she has been instrumental in the provision of high-speed internet access to rural areas in the UK. Lindsey is also a past winner of Silicon.com's Outstanding Contribution to UK Technology