Why do people want to be near Rob Ford, Charlie Sheen and most anyone who owns a professional sports team? I can assure you, it’s not for the conversation; it’s because there is at least a small chance they will further unravel and something interesting will come flying out of their mouths.

The same is true of Twitter. Let’s face it, Twitter is mostly boring, cranky twaddle with just enough drunk celebrities to keep things interesting. Oh, and there’s always the chance some marketer is going to have a clever idea.

Like this recent brain wave by New York’s finest.

nypd twitter fail

Asking people to post a photo of their favourite encounter with a cop is going to end badly. They should have known that, if for no better reason than McDonald’s stepped on that landmine just last year with their delightful customer stories campaign.

mcd twitter fail

All of which could have been avoided by learning from the Rogers miserable tsunami of resentment back in 2012.

Kellogg’s poured a heaping bowl of resentment with a spectacular Twitter campaign promising to donate to a children’s breakfast program for each retweet. Vox populi sometimes yells back.

kelloggs twitter fail

Speaking of misreading the market, JP Morgan thought it would be a swell idea to hold a Twitter chat so the peasants could ask some questions about, oh, maybe where all their savings went.

At least they had the sense to cancel it, which is what AT&T should have done before they tweeted this classy photo.

att twitter fail

Given the less-than-friendly response to this, you’d think the folks at Campbell Soup would know better when Pearl Harbor Day rolled around a few months later. But no. Uh-oh. SpaghettiOs indeed.

spag twitter fail

I’m sure things are better across the pond. Well maybe not.

ba twitter fail

They must have missed the bit where it says social media stays on even after you switch off your computer for the day.

British Gas probably should have left their computers off to avoid scheduling a Twitter Q&A on the very day they raised their rates by more than ten percent.

british gas twitter fail

These are made all the more cringeworthy by the awful realization that just about any of us could have been this dumb and forgotten a cardinal rule of Twitter. Here’s the rule: It’s not about you.

It’s about the people who follow you. They are not your fans or your friends; they are your customers and they want to talk to you. They want to talk about your service, your products, their relationship with you and your relationship with them.

That’s the beauty of Twitter. Marketers get to shut up and listen. Instead of asking citizens to tweet about their encounters with the police department, ask about what makes your (shared) city special. Instead of asking about how much they love your meals, ask them about a favourite recipe (shared love of food).

Want to mark an occasion? Let your customers mark it and retweet that. Your brand has no business in personal memorials.

If you’re making unpopular announcements, polluting a body of water or tanking the economy, then sharing is not where you want to go. Twitter lets you hang out in the corner and hear what they’re saying. Resist the urge to share your opinion; it will not change anyone’s mind.

Next time, we’ll look at when it’s time to STFU on Twitter.