Crossing the line. Boston Marathon Tragedy Blunder.

The final blog in this series; in relation to social media and enterprise 2.0. This week I was asked…
Q: Identify an example of an organisation that has accidentally or deliberately ‘misused’ social technology.

The organisation I will be exploring is called Epicurious. And I will cover their “deliberate” attempt to use social technology during a public tragedy. The Boston Bombings, 2013 <~ view link to know the story behind the tragedy.

Who are Epicurious?

Epicurious is an website about food and cookery.
Epicurious is owned by Condé Nast Publications (A New York based mass media company) and operated by Condé Nast Digital (Their digital division). The site includes recipes, interviews with renowned chefs. And articles related to food preparation, hospitality in the home,restaurant dining, and culinary tourism. The recipes on the site are selected from the repertoires of professional chefs and home cooks. As well as from back issues of Condé Nast’s magazines Bon Appétit, Gourmet, and Self.

The Story. The incident. The blunder unfolded:

On Monday 15th April 2013, The Boston Marathon Bombings occurred. On this day. Epicurious (a food website), tweeted this.

Epicurious tweet.
The following morning, they tweeted this.

Epicurious's tweet blunder

In the wake of April 2013 horrifying Boston Marathon bombing. Epicurious had tweeted out a recipe suggestions for those in Boston and New England.

Epicurious, shamelessly used the tragedy to promote two breakfast recipes to its 385,000+ followers.

This is one of the worst examples of a brand’s attempt at “real-time marketing”. A company using a national tragedy as an opportunity to chime in about its own content.

My Overview:

Companies using social media should take note…
Tragedy = Social media screw-up waiting to happen. And the best course of action to take with social media when disaster strikes, is to shut up.

In correlation, there are some brands who simply do not care. They do not care about crossing any lines and will do whatever it takes to move their product towards profit. For some, there is no line between capitalism and capitalization. Within this context, i’m referring capitalism as – brands capitalising or taking advantage of a given situation a consumer finds themselves in.

Attitude such like this, touches base on some of Rogerson’s eight ethical principles. In references to Epicurious, I’m not saying that are such a brand that doesn’t care. Actually they do. Evident by apologetic tweet they sent out after realised their error.

Epicurious's apologetic tweet

Epicurious apologising to its followers on twitter.

However, lets explore some of the ethics they violated during this social media fiasco.

Violation (Relating to Rogerson’s eight ethical principles):

  • Fairness;
  • Effective and efficient action.
  • Professional Adequacy.


Fairness; are all stakeholder’s views considered with regard to the action? – Nope. This brand certainly wasn’t considering the views of its stakeholders at the time. None whatsoever. I mean who in their mind promotes ‘whole grain cranberry scones’ during a terrorist attack.

Effective and efficient action; is the action suitable, given the objectives set? Nope. Suitable! – Not in the slightest. The anger responses by customers viewing these tweets goes to show how un-suitable their action was.

Professional Adequacy; is the action within the limits of capability? Nope. This social interaction was neither professional or adequate in light of the situation occurring. You would think professionalism results in good manner and good timing!?

These are a violation because as humans, we should think about the impact our actions have on others. Mapping out the ethical consequences of what we do, ‘Ethics problem space’ by Campoverde, Sun & Stephens (2009). Is a good starting point to reflect upon such actions.

Looking deeper:

A survey by smartbrief, looked at “who controls the social media efforts at your organisation?” Their insight shows:

Insight by smartbrief

Survey by smartbrief looking at “who controls the social media efforts at your organisation?”

Someone in the marketing department. Followed by ‘someone in the public relations department’. Marginally followed by ‘no one person controls all the organisation’s social media efforts’. So what does this tell you about the social effects of most organisations?

In accordance to the six core affordances of social tech via McKinsey. Epicurious touches base on two of the six affordances.

– Collective effort (affordance 2).
– Independence (affordance 6).

six core affordances of social tech

Six core affordances of social technology by McKinsey.

Yes. It may have seem that in Epicurious’ case, this social media blunder may have been an collective effort. I’ve made this assumption based on the previous image by smartbrief. OR. This could had been a independent action, done by a sole individual on behalf of the brand. Dawson’s lists a few key risks and concerns of enterprise 2.0 that correlate to this incident by Epicurious. – ‘loss of control’ and ‘reputation’.

Key Risks & Concerns of E2.0

Key Risks & Concerns of E2.0 by Dawson (2008)

During this blunder, both of these risk/concerns came into fruition, and now the repercussions have tarnished the reputation of this brand.

Epicurious may have not have gotten into this mess if they had used a social automation provider such as buffer 😉 – they could have paused their scheduled tweets.

What Epicurious should have done during the incident?

  • Send one tweet acknowledging the tragedy, then a separate one featuring a recipe. Not trying to force a news hook into their food recipes like they had done.
  • Ensure the person(s) manning their social media accounts keep up-to-date with the news.
  • Used a social media crisis communications decision tree. much like this example by social media influence.

What Epicurious should have done after the incident?

  • Have an representative of the company state that the person(s) responsible for the tweets wouldn’t be allowed to represent their brand anymore.
  • Pledge to provide all staff with social media training.
  • Review or immediately create a social media policy.
  • Pledge a donation to victims of the Boston tragedy.


Have you ever messed up so bad and tried to regain the faith/trust of those you failed? – I tell you, it’s a long, and hard road to recover from. People forgive, but they NEVER forget.

Adding insult to injury, Epicurious’ first response was to tweet “apologies,” saying that it was sorry if the Boston tweets “seemed” insensitive. Epicurious then deleted those tweets and finally tweeted an actual apology, admitting that the tweets were, “frankly, insensitive.”

Epicurios where wrong to promote themselves during a public tragedy. Their actions where ethical wrong, not fair and unprofessional!



Campoverde, A., Sun, L., & Stephens, J. (2009). INN313 – Ethics Applied to E-commerce [Lecture Notes].

Calderon, A. (2013, May 22). 19 Companies That Made Huge Social Media Fails. Retrieved from

EDWARDS, J. (2013, April 17). Epicurious Used Boston Bombings To Push Cranberry Scones On Twitter. Retrieved from

Indvik, L. (2013, April 18). Epicurious’ Enrages Followers With Boston Bombings Tweets. Retrieved from Mashable (Mashable)

Olenski, S. (2013, April 18). Epicurious Uses The Boston Marathon Tragedy To Cross That Line. Retrieved from

McGee, M. (2013, April 16). Epicurious Becomes Latest Brand To Suffer Social Backlash From Tragedy-Related Tweets. Retrieved from

Starke, P. (2013, April 17). Epicurious feels wrath of social media after posting insensitive tweets. Retrieved from

Phillip, B. (2013, April 16). Tragedy In Boston: What The Hell Was Epicurious Thinking? Retrieved from

Rogerson, S., & Fidler, C. (n.d.). A practical perspective of information ethics. Strategic Information Systems Planning (SISP): An Ethical Analysis A Practical Perspective of Information Ethics Professor Simon Rogerson, Centre for Computing and SocialResponsibility, De Montfort University, UK, 3, 4-3, 4. Retrieved from

King, S. (2014, September 19). Six Things You Should Never Do On Social Media Networking. Retrieved from


14 responses to “Crossing the line. Boston Marathon Tragedy Blunder.

  1. great post andre. i really like how you write it so clear that it is easy to understand .
    P.S : and i might use some of your reference list for my blog.

    thank you for the great blog

  2. Can you believe this isn’t the first company to use a huge disaster to their advantage?! It’s pretty terrible. Why do you think they thought it would work on their consumers?

    • I’ve seen a few other examples now. Its truly shocking. There is not reasonable explanation to why they pulled this off. But I believe they were utilising the situation in order to promote. They knew lots of people would be taking to twitter to discuss the tragedy, so they just jumped on the band wagon to gain sales.

  3. Hey Andre, great post. I really like how you’ve broken everything down into simple to read and understand terms. Your coverage of the theory was excellent too. It was great to see you integrate the Sound Cloud recording too, something different that not many (if any) people are doing!

    I came across this case study while doing research for my blog and it’s quite terrible that organisations take advantage of tragedies like this.

    (My blog:

  4. Hi Andre,

    Great work! Your post is very informative and engaging! It is really a shame that a company took advantages of a tragedy to market itself, as it certainly goes beyond the bottom line of ethics. Your analysis is very impressive and I totally agree with what you’ve said. Well done!

    I would appreciate if you could spare some time to take a look at my blog:)

    • Thankyou 🙂

      It is indeed a great shame. Something that shouldn’t be repeated, but yet there are still businesses out there repeating these disgusting actions…

      I shall check out your blog 😉

  5. Hey Andre, great post as usual! And I love your idea of recording an audio file! I prefer listening than reading, haha, so you got my vote!
    And yea, it’s very true of what you said, “people forgive, but never forgot”. What they did is really inappropriate, I couldn’t feel any sorrow they had when they’re trying to get your attention to their recipe… it’ll def be a long way to regain their reputation.

  6. Great post Andre.It’s terrible how they use such incidents to market their products. Its strange that no apology was given from them, unlike other cases where companies delete posts and label them as “mistakes”.

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