Using twitter in a crisis – two case studies

Two recent events have struck home how useful Twitter can be from the point of view of customer relations, and how poorly it is being used by some companies who should know better.

The first was the by-now notorious #amazonfail case, where word got out that Amazon had shunted all Gay Lesbian and Transgender tagged works out of their regular ranking system, affecting the way these works would display for various searches. This shunting was noticed by some coming in to the Easter bank holiday weekend, and by the end of the weekend a cause celebre had been created, to Amazon’s cost.

The causes of #amazonfail are irrelevant, in the context of this posting – whether it was caused deliberately by a conservative viewpoint in Amazon, or was – as they claim – a technical glitch, is neither here nor there. What’s important to note is that the issue flared up on twitter and could have easily been quenched using the same means. If an Amazon representative had simply posted a tweet on the subject, saying that it was being looked into, it would probably have calmed nerves everywhere, and made the whole affair a damp squib. 

So, lesson one. If you’re a big company, you should have some monitoring of your brand-name going on, particularly in twitter, but also elsewhere. The social networking revolution isn’t just about you putting out messages about your brand – it’s about constantly listening to what’s being said about your brand, and twitter makes that delightfully simple (use any of the multitude of specialised twitter clients out there, and you’ll be able to run searches on keywords).

The second case is a lesser noted one, but a brilliant lesson nonetheless. This morning we noticed a number of clients’ sites were down (thanks to using a monitoring service, in this case the free Bodu Web doesn’t host sites, but we do act as technical support for a number of clients and so intervene and follow up any problems with the webhosting provider. 

After ascertaining that the site was indeed down, we also discovered that the webhosting service’s support site was down! And their main site! And the long list of promo sites they have which turn up in the top ten google results for their name. Obviously something big had happened at the data-centre (although you’d have thought that some kind of redundancy system would have been set up to ensure that their own site and support sites never go down  – after all, if your webhost can’t guarantee 100% uptime for their own site, why should you trust yours to them?).

Now this is a tech company that has a blog, and a dedicated twitter account. Doing a search for their name on twitter put us in touch with various unhappy customers around the world, but no sign of any information from the company itself. Instead, one client in the US who managed to get through to customer support by phone, spent the morning angrily relaying details to the rest of the world on twitter.

So a company that has a serious problem, which will probably lose them a lot of customers (we’re advising our clients to move, for example) exacerbated the crisis by being completely absent. It would almost have been better for them had they not had a twitter account in the first place. Having one and using it so poorly (the last tweet on offer to upset customers this morning was – thanks, we agree that we’re awesome!) is like a slap in the face.

It’s a new technology, and a brave new world out there – but these are two simple common-sense pr lessons. We’ll see, though, in the coming months how many big companies that are supposedly investing in social networking, make the very same mistake. To use twitter or any other social networking tool effectively, you have to think in wider terms than simply sending out ‘we’re great’ tweets daily.

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