You Are What You Tweet: Why Businesses Should Think Twice Before Tweeting.

The majority of businesses and users would agree that, in general terms, the social media has been a boon.

It’s allowed companies to engage in real-time with their customers and nip in the bud any potential problems that might be about to surface. The experience is the same for consumers: they get to hear the latest from their brand or company of choice, and know that if there’s a problem, the chances are that it will be dealt with PDQ because it’s in the interest of the business concerned.

So is everything in the social media garden is rosy then?

Are Facebook and Twitter always guaranteed to be the advertising man’s dream, delivering new markets and untold riches? Well, possibly, but that only applies when all parties to the deal are playing with a perfectly straight bat. If everyone knows the rules and sticks to them, then there’s unlikely to be a problem. However, if either side bowls a googlie or a bit of reverse swing, then all sorts of issues can arise, and that’s when some businesses may actually rue the day they ever embraced the social media. So why does it occasionally go wrong?

The problem seems to be that some businesses haven’t fully embraced the whole concept of the social media. They simply cherry pick the bits that they think will benefit their business and conveniently forget the other equally important parts. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are absolutely great mediums for responding the customer feed back, particularly if this is negative. The beauty of these platforms is that they give businesses the opportunity to respond to problems in real-time and fix them with the eyes of the social world watching them. Unfortunately, the same rules don’t apply to social media marketing: just ask the former-guru of modern style, Habitat, or the brains trust at Qantas. Social media marketing demands real-time thinking and a carefully considered and planned marketing strategy, not just real-time gimmicks.

The problem with Twitter and Facebook is that customers are able to say what they see, and sometimes this can have disastrous implications for those businesses who comment on the hoof. Qantas was beset with all sorts of problems after the perceived poor treatment of its workforce. The entire fleet was grounded and customers were left stranded at airports around the world. What was Qantas’ response? Was it to reassure these customers through the social media and tell them it was dealing with the problem? Absolutely not: somebody within its digital media department decided that this was the time to ‘positively engage’ by running a competition for its customer base on Twitter. The media team asked tweeters to name their “dream luxury flight experience” as part of a competition to win a holiday. The rest is history: the company got slaughtered on the platform, and the truth is they probably asked for what they got. For some inexplicable reason, some business executives, desperate to show they have a digital strategy, often forgo spending money on properly planned digital advertising campaigns and instead opt for free and poorly thought-out plugs on Twitter. That really isn’t the way forward. You’d have thought that Qantas would’ve learned from Habitat’s experience.

They say that politics and marketing don’t mix: well, Habitat can vouch for that, or it could it was still with us.

Some media boffin decided in 2009 that it would be a bright idea to use the Iran elections as an excuse to market its wares on Twitter by feeding keywords, or hashtags, to their tweets to ensure that Habitat’s messages appeared on the list of trending topics. Unfortunately the other major trending topic of the time was the Iranian election itself. Many were aggrieved by what they perceived to be fixed and undemocratic election results, and they made these feelings known on the platform. They wanted the people in the West to know how they were being treated and to tell them what was going on. Anyone reading the feed at the time would either have been completely bemused or apoplectic with rage: one minute users were telling us about instances of police brutality, then the next we read of a very special offer on a wardrobe and a BOGOFF promotion on coffee tables. Needless to say, Habitat was forced to apologise profusely, and ran away with its tail between its legs. The company claimed it was all down to error, but some ‘errors’ can be costly. Many tweeters vowed never to cross Habitat’s threshold again after that stunt. Now it’s no longer in business: is that anything to do with this fiasco, or just an unfortunate consequence? I guess we’ll never know, but it gets you thinking, or it should.

What the moral for businesses?

What lessons can be learned from the unfortunate experiences of these two big-players on the world stage? It’s simply that social media marketing needs careful thought and planning. Any business engaged in real-time marketing needs real-time solutions for when things go wrong. It’s no point burying your head in the sand if explosives are being detonated around you like Qantas did: you have to take whatever steps are necessary to put the flames out. Social media isn’t always the best way for companies to communicate their brand message. It is good for responding to customers yes, but any marketing, even on social sites, needs the same level of thought, crisis management and craftsmanship as a traditional advertising campaign. If anything, social media marketing needs even more thought: don’t forget, customers can “chat” straight back – and often companies will need to be prepared for torrents of abuse.

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