Burger King Forgot How Twitter Works

A well-meaning Twitter thread goes off the rails

Photo: Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Oh, Burger King, you can’t “Have it your way,” when it comes to Twitter etiquette.

By now you’ve likely seen Burger King U.K.’s tweet (it’s since been removed) that said, “Women belong in the kitchen.” On any normal day, this tweet would’ve been considered a huge miss. On International Women’s Day, well, you can imagine the reaction.

But wait. Hold up. Burger King U.K. had a plan, one their marketing team must’ve thought was brilliant.

The tweet was a setup for two more tweets that would explain the scarcity of female chefs and that Burger King U.K. was launching a scholarship program to help “female Burger King employees pursue their culinary dreams!”

See? All better. No harm no foul.

I appreciate that Burger King was trying to do a good thing and that it later deleted the Tweet, admitting they got the initial Tweet wrong.

The mistake, though, is worth remembering as a cautionary tale for social media managers and everyone else on Twitter.

When I saw the Twitter thread, it was clear to me that, if Burger King’s marketing team insisted on going with that incendiary opening statement, they should’ve used all 280 characters to quickly explain their full intentions.

By separating the thought into three tweets, staggering them, and leaving that first sentence like an orphan stink bomb for millions to see and misinterpret is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nuts and bolts of Twitter.

Twitter threads, which allow you to daisy chain tweets that people can read in a series, are useful for longer thoughts.

Knowing that Burger King U.K. intended to deliver a 1–2–3 punch, it might’ve at least started the first tweet with “A thread:” or “(1/3),” which means “one of three,” both common Twitter thread practices. Any of that, in combination with that fire starter statement, might’ve compelled people to read further and understand what the hell Burger King was tweeting about.

The bigger problem is that it appears that Burger King didn’t post all three tweets at once. As a result, there was a good chance people saw the initial tweet, were incensed, and never saw the follow-ups despite those later tweets being part of a growing thread.

What Burger King forgot is that people’s Twitter streams aren’t entirely linear. Many people have Twitter set to show “Home Tweets,” which are recommended tweets (popular, more in line with your interests) from those you follow.

It’s also just as likely that people simply missed Burger King’s explanatory tweets as their feed filled with other Twitter content.

Burger King has a history of often brilliant, trolly online marketing behavior, mostly in service of competing with arch-rival McDonald’s. In a way, this tweet fits with that, but it also goes way too far. It’s a mean-spirited smirk without a wink or nod, and a stunningly tone-deaf effort that was easily avoided if even one marketing or social media person had asked anyone outside their tiny orbit, “You think this is okay?”

No doubt, navigating Twitter etiquette isn’t always easy. Remember, it’s a short message often without context, supporting facts, or that helpful wink.

Despite the platform’s inherent risks (being misinterpreted or receiving backlash), the allure of joining in on Twitter trends, launching a meme, or tying your brand sail to a cultural or historical moment is almost impossible to deny.

Success, though, requires care, clarity, and a deep understanding of your audience.

I’m in favor of big online swings because they can produce even bigger results, but there must be a line. It’s the job of social media managers (and their managers) to draw that line. Burger King U.K. stepped right over it and learned a tough lesson, one I doubt people will ever let them forget.

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.

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