What do we know about Twitter?
We know that it’s popular with celebrities. We know that businesses as well as individuals use it to communicate with like-minded peers. We know that it forms part of a comprehensive online marketing strategy. We know that it’s global and now, thanks to protestors in Egypt, we know that it’s one of the most efficient ways to organise mass demonstrations. We know that it’s instant. We know that if it’s used properly it can deliver your message to a very wide audience. And we know that if it’s used incorrectly it can deliver your message to a very wide audience.
In an uncharacteristic display of humour and wit, the US Navy coined the phrase: “Loose tweets sink fleets”. It’s a play on the phrase “loose lips sink ships”, which was first used during WWII to convey the seriousness of leaking information.
These days the term has less relevance for military operations (although it still applies) and is more suited to businesses trying to reap the benefits of an active online presence. One ill-conceived tweet can kill a social media campaign faster than you can gasp in horror.
Beware all who enter here
Social media campaigns are fraught with difficulties. It’s not enough to devise a comprehensive strategy. You also have to work out how to implement it, designate certain key staff who will be responsible for its implementation and monitor it to ensure that it is being carried out correctly. Below are five lessons that other businesses and people have learnt the hard way, but which you can avoid with a little common sense and proper planning.
1) The renegade
Vodafone learnt a very hard lesson when an unauthorised staff member took advantage of an unattended computer terminal and decided to spice up the company’s Twitter stream reserved for dealing with complaints. The message read: VodafoneUK is fed up of dirty homo’s (sic) and is going after beaver.
This is not something you want your valued customers to see. People were upset, understandably. Vodafone managed the situation well, however. It issued an immediate apology, owned up to the fact that the account hadn’t been hacked but that the message had come from an “individual” within the company and informed their followers of the punitive steps taken.
Avoid the same mistake by issuing log-in details to designated members of your team only. Impress upon them the necessity of logging out whenever they leave their desks. Hammer the point home by making them personally responsible for any mistakes that occur as a result of negligence.
2) The ill-conceived
The people at Kenneth Cole (clothing and accessories retailer) started with a good idea, but mucked it up with poor timing. The intention was to piggy back their sales campaign on top of a global media event. Unfortunately, the event they picked was the not entirely bloodless uprising in Egypt. The message ran: Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our spring collection is now available online at… (link)
It was tasteless. It was tacky. More importantly, it upset a lot of people who tweeted and retweeted their intention never to shop at Kenneth Cole ever again.
Avoid a similar fate by drawing up social media guidelines. Your social media people need to know exactly where the boundaries are and how far you’re willing to push them. You might also want to establish a chain of command. If ideas carry a hint of the risqué you’ll want someone who knows your company and its values to have the final say.
3) The serial offender
Live tweeting or live blogging is a popular trend among journalists (or conference/meeting/seminar attendees). It panders to the obsession with real-time. But there is a time and a place for everything and a funeral is neither the time nor the place for live tweeting. A local newspaper in Colorado found this out the hard way when it sent one of its reporters to cover the funeral of a three-year-old boy.
Like scenario two, this is tasteless and tacky, but the error is compounded by the fact that the tweets go on and on and on.
Avoid this by subscribing to the principles of common decency. Over the last decade or so habits that used to be frowned upon have become common place (answering your cell phone while in the middle of an anniversary dinner with your wife, for instance), but that doesn’t mean we have to throw all etiquette out the window.
4) The personal/professional overlap
Some people have difficulty separating their personal lives from their professional lives. They use the same Twitter (or Facebook) profile to tweet private and business news. Technically speaking, the next example is not a business one, but it captures the essence of the blunder perfectly.
Last year (July 2010), a Welsh councillor, John Dixon, managed to enrage scientologists when he posted the tweet: I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.
It’s undeniably offensive if you’re a scientologist. A formal complaint was lodged and Dixon was investigated for breaching the code of conduct that governs local authorities.
Now, it must be said that scientology is generally not taken very seriously by anyone other than scientologists. If the same comment had been directed at Muslims or Christians the fallout would have been catastrophic. But it wasn’t and Dixon found himself an unlikely hero as people offered to pay his legal fees and sent him thousands of tweets in support.
The reason the tweet caused such a ruckus is because Dixon’s username was @CllrJohnDixon, which gave the impression that he was tweeting in his capacity as a councillor, when in fact he was not. He has since created a new account with no hint of his professional status.
Avoid this by having two distinct accounts: one for business and one for pleasure. Don’t confuse the two.
5) The assailant
It doesn’t matter what business you’re in or how carefully you craft, carry out and monitor your social media campaign, you will get up someone’s nose. The trick is how you handle it. It is not a good idea to get aggressive and offensive and enter into a slanging match punctuated with expletives. You don’t want to follow the example of US author Alice Hoffman. Hoffman got a bad review (as all writers inevitably do), but instead of seething quietly or ranting to her friends and family she climbed into the critic on Twitter. There was name calling; she implied that the critic was out to destroy her; and then she went a step too far and posted the critic’s phone number and email address and incited her followers to contact the reviewer her and let her know what they “think of snarky critics”.
Shortly after the tirade Hoffman closed her account and issued an apology through her publicist.
You can avoid this by acting like a grown-up. Don’t be petulant, don’t be spoilt and don’t think that everyone shares your views. If someone has an issue with something you’ve done or said or the way in which someone on your staff has behaved, address it calmly and directly. And whatever you do, don’t make public details that are meant to be private.
What other tweets or twitterers do you know of that can kill a social media campaign?