The Montreal Canadiens had more than a few surprises for their fans last night. The Habs served up sixty minutes of energetic, aggressive hockey that shocked everyone at Verizon Center, from the league leading denizens of Moscow on the Potomac to the casuals who tuned in because they’d already binge-watched everything good on Netflix. No one — except maybe the Canadiens themselves — expected to see Montreal take an early lead, shame uberpipesman Braden Holtby to the bench for the last two periods, and almost tauntingly deke victory just out of the Capitals’ reach. The Habs took Washington’s current slogan to heart. They Rocked the Red by breaking their latest winning streak.
It’s just a flesh wound; the Caps will live. Barry Trotz and Alexander Ovechkin may laugh this off a couple of months from now if they finish off the postseason with chunky rings and a date with the Stanley Cup. Even Coach Trotz, who has been known to invoke the hockey gods, might agree that Montreal needed a perfect night of hockey.
This hasn’t been a good year for the Canadiens. There was the time Subban tried to be a mensch by tossing pucks in to the stands, but he hit a baby. Thanks to what seems like multiple streaks of bad luck, the Habs achieved something pretty close to Leafs-level dolorem. None of which was helped by the public relations nightmare that slammed Montreal’s fan relations office Tuesday.
Somewhere in Montreal’s front office sector, Canadiens fan relations personnel were seeing a well-intentioned thank you to the fans go horribly awry. To celebrate the organization’s Twitter account followers reaching the one million mark, an automated image generator was set up. The idea was simple enough. Canadiens fans could tweet using the hashtag #CanadiensMTL1M, and a programmed auto-response, also known as a “Bot” would post an image of a Montreal sweater with the person’s name on it and “1 M” in place of the usual number.
— TheStarPhoenix.com (@TheStarPhoenix) February 24, 2016
Fans loved the program, but it didn’t take long for trolls and pranksters to flood the feed with joke handles. Some were obviously jabs at the Canadiens from followers of other clubs, while other screen names contained racial slurs, obscenities, and cruel messages, all bearing the team’s logo and sweater design. NHL fans all over North America and beyond watched as the story unfolded.
The Montreal Gazette’s Jason Magder reported the Canadiens organization quickly suspended the campaign and Flowics, the company responsible for providing the program, released a statement apologizing to the Montreal club and their fans.
Today, for the first time, we’ve failed one of our clients: the Montreal Canadiens. We are really sad about it and we want to extend our apology to them, their fans and anybody who might have been offended by this. The @CanadiensMTL team reached 1M followers on Twitter yesterday and to celebrate this special occasion, they trusted us to set up an Auto Response Twitter campaign to deliver personalized jerseys to their fans. In this case, our agency team was asked to be in charge of the Setup and, regrettably, we did it wrong. Due to human error in the configuration, we failed to activate a filter in our product, which takes care of rejecting offensive or abusive content.
According to CBC, the Canadiens pulled all of the offensive tweets and offered their own apology for the social media disaster. Official word from the Montreal front office was posted on their official website and via their social media outlets.
— Ottawa Citizen (@OttawaCitizen) February 24, 2016
Unfortunately, this is not the first time such a promotion has netted such embarrassing results. In 2014, a similar Twitter celebration hosted by the New England Patriots ended with abject apologies from the NFL franchise after racial slurs found their way into the social media mix.
Are bot-driven promotions like the Canadiens’ campaign a good idea? In an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Sébastien Provencher, whose company, Acquisio Canada, specializes in online marketing, is not convinced these programs are offering the best way to work with social media.
“What this shows is in social media, you can’t automate. I know it’s difficult for large companies, because it doesn’t scale nicely. So many people are thinking about automating social media, but it’s really a one-to-one experience.”
Les hommes et homelettes in Montreal may have seen the Habs’ victory as the best Canadian win in Washington since the big Chesapeake Bay bonfire in 1812. In the meantime, the big guys wearing the real Montreal Canadiens Sweaters are headed home get ready to meet the Maple Leafs.
[Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]