Twitter Brand Bully Bounty Hunters

September 27, 2010

See no evil, hear no evil, tweet no evil.

I’ve been sitting on this post since last week but found myself too busy to stomp it out. Unfortunately/fortunately, my body is demanding rest with this disgusting cold that’s going around… So, here’s the post.

Last week I came across an interesting blog post about a Price Chopper (PC) communications fail that made its way into various news sources.

Essentially, a regular shopper with no professional affiliation to Price Chopper or its competitors, went into his (identity is protected but has been identified as a male) local PC and tweeted about the underwhelming selection. The Tweet wasn’t even all that bad, it read:

A communications representative behind the PC brand took it upon herself to email a random list of said customer’s company’s executives citing the customer, their employee, should receive disciplinary action against him for the “destructive” tweet.

I find this irresponsible behaviour on the part of the PC employee. However, it is an interesting situation on various levels.

Communications Professionals

As a PR practitioner myself, I was shocked when I read this had come from someone in PC’s Public Relations department.

These are the people who are essentially the brand’s ambassadors for media. These are the people who draft, plan and lead communications for everything — even crisis situations. They are media trained and media train top-level executives.

This behaviour reflects more some scene from Mean Girls than it does of a communicator. Just about any other position would have garnered an, “oh well, he/she didn’t know better”. But as the voice of your brand, there is zero excuse for this.

Social Media Filtering

There is something to be said about filtering one’s self online. I’ve made mistakes and learned the hard way. Now, I make a conscious effort not to bully brands online.

I do, however, think the great power of Twitter is that it has given a voice back to consumers. Obviously, brand bullying is one thing, but what the guy tweeted in this example is HARDLY bullying and I do not think he deserved to have the PC representative defame his name to his employers over something completely unrelated to his professional life.

Consumers Being Bullied By Brands Now?

We should have the right to express ourselves and our distaste as we see fit, and brands have the right to respond to or ignore it. Them bullying us, however, is completely and utterly ridiculous.

With any good comes bad — and as a brand, you can not always please everyone — ever. Just comes with the territory.

I was laughing with a colleague about this situation in the extreme sense: Could you imagine working for a popular brand, and every time someone tweeted something about your brand that you didn’t like, you hunted them down and called their employers?

For most brands — that could be a full-time job on its own, and the position would be called “Twitter Brand Bully Bounty Hunters“. You could even take it a step further and organize lynch mobs and harass them at work and home — you know, 4Chan avengers style until they apologized. Ridiculous? I thought so too.

Advice For Tweeters:

When could/should a tweet about another brand land you in hot water with your employers?

The answer is simple: If you don’t work for the company you are tweeting negatively about, but they are your company’s clients, partners, distributors, or some how affiliated, then I could see a negative tweet potentially warranting an email to your employers.

Quick fix: Don’t list your employers on your profile, don’t tweet negatively against brands, or, more realistically, add a disclaimer to your profile stating the opinions stated on this account do not reflect those of your employers and are strictly your own.

Advice For Employees:

When can a tweet land you in hot water with your own employers?

If you work for an employer — any employer — there are certain guidelines to not pissing your own company off. It is best to be safe rather than sorry with social media because you wouldn’t want a tweet to be the cause of your dismissal. Here are some considerations to make before pressing send.

  • Has your tweet in anyway made your company/brand look bad?
  • Has your tweet made your clients/affiliates/stakeholders look bad?
  • Has your tweet gone against the company’s policies?
  • Has your tweet jeopardized any delicate information around privacy? Ie. new products, legal issues, etc.
  • Has your tweet proved your own indiscretions or caught you in a lie?

The Fix: If you can say yes to any of the questions above, you probably shouldn’t tweet it. Additionally, remember that tweets live forever, so make sure the brand you are tweeting negatively about is one you (or your company) won’t one day want to work for/with, or you could also find yourself in trouble then.

Advice For Influencers (or wanna-be influencers)

When can a negative tweet hurt your personal reputation?

For influencers especially, be responsible. I’ve made tons of mistakes tweeting and recklessly ranting about brands only to find out they are brands my friends work for or represent afterwards… which makes for a very uncomfortable situation.

The Fix: If you can’t stick by the rant whole-heartedly, then reconsider sending it. Also, consider posting it in a constructive format rather than a “you suck” format for better results.

Advice For Brands:

How should you deal with negative tweets from employees and customers?

For a brand, its your responsibility to figure out what you will respond to and how. In one word, it’s called “policy”.

When someone tweets negatively about your brand, your communications department should develop an outline of “canned responses” to be used as the base for responses. If you choose to respond, the right message to the right individual could result in turning the most negative critic into an evangelist. However, sometimes you are dealing with trolls who will never be happy no matter how hard you try, in which case, I suggest dropping it.

You must really consider whether you want Twitter to be a CRM tool. If you don’t want to have twitter be another customer service outlet, then you may not want to respond to negative tweets at all. Alternatively, you could simply point the unhappy tweeter into the best direction to reach your designated CS lines.

Overall, this is a conversation the communications team needs to have. Protocol isn’t always a dirty word.

Final thought: You need to be responsible with your tweeting. You never know if the person on the other end is or will be a friend, future employer or straight up ignorant lunatic like the “PR professional” in this situation. Happy Tweeting.


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