Why Coke Went Dark on Twitter for Nearly Two Hours During the Super Bowl

Twitter Publishing Cap Limits Brands and Individuals to 1,000 Tweets Per Day

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The Super Bowl was a good night for Twitter, which had the most talked-about ad of the evening – Oreos's response to the black-out -- published to its platform. But a different major advertiser whose social media "war room" was also at 360i's lower Manhattan headquarters had its tweet-posting operation halted for two critical primetime hours due to an obscure Twitter rule.

Inside Coke's command central at the Super Bowl
Inside Coke's command central at the Super Bowl

Coca-Cola was unable to post tweets from its main Twitter handle between 8:22 p.m. and 10 p.m. eastern time because it had exceeded the publishing limit that Twitter sets on daily and hourly tweets, which is intended to curb spam. (The official daily tweet cap is 1,000, which "is further broken down into smaller limits for semi-hourly intervals," and the rules apply to brands with millions of followers and individual users with 10 alike.)

Since Coca-Cola was using its Twitter handle to thank individual users for voting in a game linked to its "Mirage" TV ad, it had anticipated topping the standard limit. The company had filed paperwork with Twitter to raise its tweet ceiling for Super Bowl Sunday on the Friday prior, according to a Coca-Cola spokeswoman, who wouldn't disclose what the limit was raised to.

However, it also exceeded the new limit it had been granted on Sunday due to high user engagement, and the ceiling then had to adjusted upward by Twitter again during the game, explaining the nearly 100 minutes when the account couldn't tweet. (Coca-Cola had also struggled to keep its microsite, CokeChase.com, up and running after a massive traffic spike when the TV spot aired during the first quarter. Because of that, the social-media team resorted to plan B, which was urging people to vote using hashtags on Twitter on which of the ad's characters should win in a race through the desert.)

Coca-Cola's plight on Super Bowl Sunday illustrates the complexity brands must sort through when they're contemplating intricate executions that rely on Twitter. However, creating separate accounts that have higher tweet publishing limits for big advertisers to freely engage one-to-one with their audience is not in Twitter's plan, though it can raise the limit on a case-by-case limit, as it did for Coca-Coca.

For Twitter, the issue boils down to protecting user experience and making sure that people and brands are tweeting in a judicious way.

According to a spokesman: "We want to make sure people exercise good etiquette on Twitter."

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