TwitterRetailers and consumer-products companies are increasingly using Twitter as a marketing tool, which has given them limitless opportunities to connect with their customers.

It's also exposed them to nearly as many chances to come across as, well, a pack of twits.

Because the social network gained prominence as a platform for off-the-cuff, irreverent, 140-character tidbits, some companies have been lulled into a false sense of intimacy -- right up until the moment a poorly thought out missive gets them into serious hot water with the buying public.

Some businesses see tweeting "as an invitation to say things that they would not otherwise say," Gregory Parks, a partner with Morgan Lewis' litigation practice, who co-heads the law firm's retail practice group, tells DailyFinance.

But in reality, Twitter is "like any other public statement," so businesses should figure: "If they wouldn't put it in a newspaper, they shouldn't put it on Twitter," he says.

And when an ill-conceived tweet goes out on the world wide web, the backlash is far-reaching -- and hits in a New York minute, to boot.

"The power of social media allows one statement to reach millions of individual in an audience -- general audience, target audience, etc. -- which [can] then allow the message to spin out of control," Kenneth Wisnefski, founder and CEO of Webimax, which develops online marketing strategies for retailers such as Aéropostale (ARO) and Sam's Club (WMT), tells DailyFinance.

This can add up to a public-relations nightmare for high-profile businesses. "Companies have a public image to uphold, and with consumer perception being one of the most important things to them, there's a higher standard to which they have to adhere," Parks says.

He should know. In Parks' role advising retailers on sale advertising, more and more of his time is spent reviewing their social media campaigns -- in part to uncover potentially harmful tweets before they get sent.

"Five years ago, I was reviewing no social media programs; in the last couple of years, it's dramatically increased from 20% to 30%" of the advertising programs he reviews, be it a discount offer or a contest promotion, he says.

"The challenge with Twitter is that a company has a very limited space to get their message across."

Here are five unfortunate examples of corporate tweeting gone wrong.

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I like south west airlines, bigger seats and more room !! US airways is like sitting in a sardean can with the top on !!!

June 24 2012 at 8:30 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I am sorry, I would have busted out laughing at the United Airline's reply- it was fast, funny and on point.

June 22 2012 at 11:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Indeed, you have to love United Airlines.
Don't you? It was funny. Wasn't it?
I guess it is all in the eyes of the beholder.
We EACH have a different view of life.
That's life! (.....for sure!)

June 21 2012 at 11:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Smith

Love Gilbert. But really who cares who you offend. Stop chasing a dollar and be real.

June 21 2012 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

lol the UAL's one is pretty hilarious

June 21 2012 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The United response was hilarious.

June 21 2012 at 4:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply