[Updated with Microsoft statement] Microsoft has found itself in an unwanted maelstrom following a Twitter message posted on its @Bing account earlier today related to the tragedy in Japan. The company wrote: “How you can #SupportJapan. For every retweet, @bing will give $1 to Japan quake victims, up to $100K.”

Seems pretty harmless. But that simple message has set off a flurry of activity on Twitter, with many users linking to the Gawker Media story: “Bing’s Tasteless Tsunami Tweet Sparks Twitter’s Rage.”

The wrath has been powerful, and biting. At least one unsavory hash tag has gained momentum around the Bing brand. Here are just a few of the Tweets from recent users:

@bing using earthquake/tsunami/nuclear news as a marketing ploy to drive search is outrageous. That is all.

Why doesn’t @bing just donate the $100k straight out?

Is the venom, anger and negativity here just because the company behind the effort is Microsoft? After all, comedian Stephen Colbert ran a similar campaign to raise money for the Gulf Oil spill with little outrage at all. (Ironically, Bing also helped support that effort).

We can only imagine that Bing’s intentions were good here, but the campaign certainly serves as another reminder of the risks and rewards of social media.

I saw the @Bing message this morning, and actually thought about hitting the Retweet button myself. But something stopped me. Looking back, I guess there was just something I didn’t like about promoting Bing in order to donate $1. Furthermore, the $100,000 cap that Microsoft imposed just seemed like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. (I did, however, donate my own money to the cause through Amazon.com yesterday)

Given my own personal dilemma over the issue, I called Seattle social media guru Leigh Fatzinger for some perspective. Fatzinger, who runs Nology Media, said he doesn’t see anything wrong with Microsoft’s approach.

“This is the right way to use social media,” he says. Asked about the criticism now spreading through the Twittersphere, Fatzinger said that’s just a downside of messages that get spread so quickly.

“This is the lesson of social media, you have to take the good with the bad,” he says.

But the short-term pain will go away over time if Microsoft’s intentions are in the right place, something Fatzinger thinks is the case in this instance.

Fatzinger said he was even more impressed with how quickly Bing was able to get the campaign up and rolling, a good example of what big brands will have to do in the future as issues spread so rapidly through the social media universe.

“I am not understanding the negativity,” he added. “I think it will be a net positive (for Microsoft) in the long-term.”

We’ve asked Microsoft for comment on the controversy, and we’ll update the post if we hear back.

Update: Here is Microsoft’s statement: “We apologize that a Bing tweet this morning was negatively perceived.  Our intention was to provide an easy way for people to help the people of Japan.  Thank you to all who responded. We have donated $100,000 to the Japanese Red Cross.”

Follow-up: Microsoft giving $2M in cash, services to Japan — no RT required

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire, a technology news site based in Seattle. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews.

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  • http://www.dainbinder.com Dain Binder

    It certainly has marketing behind it, but it also has good. This is not even close to some of Egypt hashtag things that happened. Did I re-tweet? No. I don’t like the style and will donate on my own.

    They would have been better off to just link to the page and that they made a donation. Or, do a matching thing. They will match, up to 100k, what others donate.

    The RT requirement was a bit uncool.

  • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

    In general, I don’t like it when philanthropy and commerce are intertwined, but the practice has a history much broader and deeper than Microsoft…

  • Rod Brooks

    I agree with Leigh about the value social media has during times of domestic and international crisis. I agree that Microsoft’s intentions appear to be in the right place. Unfortunately, by attaching a requirement for a “RT for a buck” as a performance requirement, their generous philanthropy was diminished and came across as marketing manipulation. They might want to rethink that in the future.

    (Note: This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the position of the company I work for or the non-profit boards on which I serve) Disclosure!

    Twitter: @NW_Mktg_Guy

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Devin-Miller/100001051294818 Devin Miller

    There seems a fine line for brands using social media to join existing conversations or to expand marketing and PR. I always use the best practice of not blending the two.

    You either join an existing conversation and add value to it or you are doing marketing / PR. Never the two should meet.

  • Anonymous

    I am much understanding the negativity. This is the wrong way to use social media. This is like how can one be totally self absorbed and yet take a feeble stab at empathy. To use someone else’s misery as an excuse to tweet yourself? Outreach by narcissists. Why not indeed just donate money outright?

  • john

    I just appreciate the fact they did something at all.

  • http://twitter.com/jdrch Judah Richardson

    I don’t get what people are upset about. This is no different from those “walk for breast cancer” events: walking by itself contributes absolutely nothing to finding a cure for cancer, but everyone supports it. Bing does the same thing on Twitter and people are mad about it? Seriously: if you’re ticked off about this, get a life/more serious things to worry about.

    Go Bing, you have absolutely nothing to apologize for.

  • http://twitter.com/cmross Christopher Ross

    We have to look at the moral compass of the companies in situations like this, as we would individuals. Microsoft as a company as well as a significant percentage of their employees are known for their charitableness. Could this have been done differently? Yes. Does it blemish the results? No.

    Frankly, I am surprised that Google’s People Finder, which falls under their standard policy for how they may use the information provided, hasn’t been subjected to a similar discussion in the blogosphere.

  • Social Expert

    I think it’s great. Although it does have promote Bing at least they are doing something and making the buzz and keeping it going. It is like the Race for a Ride (http://raceforaride.com/) campaign Nology ran which put heavy emphasis on Brotherton but successful.

  • Anonymous

    This is no different than promotions by other companies that promise to donate a dollar for buying their shoes or coffee or whatever to preserve a rainforest, find a cure for cancer, help the victims of blah, blah. I think it has more to do with the fact that it’s microsoft.

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