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Here’s a great example of how a seemingly noble social media donation campaign can go awry: Microsoft tweeted two hours ago on the Bing search engine’s Twitter account that it would donate up to $100,000 to help victims of Japan’s earthquake — but only if Twitter users retweeted its original post to broadcast it to their followers, at $1 per retweet.

While many Twitter users are retweeting without complaint, others are pointing out that this campaign seems like a crass marketing opportunity for Bing.

Comedian Michael Ian Black, who has nearly 1.6 million Twitter followers, graphically responded to the campaign with this tweet: “Hey @bing, stop using a tragedy as a fucking marketing opportunity.” Searching for “@Bing” on Twitter at the time of this post reveals plenty of other users who aren’t taking too kindly to Microsoft’s campaign.

This backlash shows us that as useful as social media is for inspiring activism, it must be carefully deployed so as not to seem like a craven publicity stunt. Most recently, we saw a similar backlash to Kenneth Cole’s tweet about Cairo amid Egypt’s recent protests, in which the fashion label plugged its spring collection.

I can’t imagine how Microsoft didn’t see this coming. It would have received plenty of good will by simply donating $100,000 to help out quake victims. This campaign, on the other hand, seems like a forced attempt to get people talking about Bing, and ultimately to get it trending on Twitter. Now people are indeed talking about Bing, but Microsoft likely won’t appreciate what they’re saying.

Update: the Bing folks have now apologized and will donate the full $100,000 amount to help the quake victims.

Tweet image via Ethan Maffey

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