Friday, December 19, 2008

When Lightening Strikes

What makes Twitter so powerful?

Several cases of reputation management have been reported lately - Ford, U-Haul and Motrin all had a potential PR problem that spread quickly from sparks on Twitter. Shel Israel concluded on the Ford question:
There is another fundamental issue. If your company finds itself in a reputation crisis, it is highly likely to spill into the social media. When it hits Twitter it is likely to move the fastest and go the furthest.
The triggers for all three cases were very different, yet they all spread like wildfire.
  • Ford - a cease and desist letter to a fan site
  • U-Haul - poor customer service at a rental counter
  • Motrin - an advertising campaign
So, why is Twitter such an incendiary device? Some thoughts:
  • The network effect is extremely powerful - telling a friend of a friend of a friend ... is automatic and in real time. There are no firebreaks when everyone is pre-connected.
  • With its limit on space, I can only post snippets of ideas. Twitter is great for pointing to thoughtful opinions or news articles, but in and of itself it is difficult to tell the whole story. This lends to top-of-mind, gut or knee-jerk reactions.
  • The headline nature of tweets or the 'hey check this out' mode pushes copy writing to elicit a response by using strong, emotive words like 'loser'.
  • It levels the playing field and the consumer as underdog with no way to voice her opinion is gone. There may be some collective 'we're not going to take it any more' and the company is used as an example rather than a specific target of dissatisfaction. I know my comments on Motrin were in this vein.
  • And finally, unfortunately bad news always travels faster than good news because people like reading about it better. My father always called the late evening news 'the grims' because people wanted to know their world was safer than the outside.
In sum, what is perceived as a lack of respect for the customer will catch on fire. Whether this is a flash burn running through the tree tops or a conflagration that destroys the roots only time will tell; but it probably isn't worth the risk to the brand to let it run its course.

If I had but one social media channel to monitor it would be Twitter because of its early-warning nature.

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