Monday, 25 February 2013

Don't 'get' social media yet? Next!

As the consumer becomes more trusting of online purchases they also become more demanding of brands in the online sphere. It's no longer enough just to have a Facebook page - you have to maintain it and make it interesting. You can't just tweet out marketing messages, you have to engage and entertain. So when a brand hits a duff note with their social media interactions - bad service, lack of professionalism, whatever -  it's no surprise that customers react badly, and being social media they do so publicly.

Many brands are afraid of social media as they fear the reprisals of unhappy customers. There is an argument that you have to sort out your service before you 'go social' but however good you are, there will always be someone who has been on the unfortunate end of a human error and has cause to complain.

The social media 'secret' here is not to avoid it - but apologise, genuinely, and offer to make ammends. All this should be done publicly and may result not only in a happy customer but in an audience who admire your customer service. Turn the situation around to your advantage.

This is clearly something Next's social media experts weren't keen on recently though, or perhaps their digital agency's weekend cover isn't that strong. Whatever the reason, it wasn't advisable for Next to post the following, when a customer swore about their delivery service:

The user's original tweet said "Fucking Next wankers! It's a pissing Sunday you bastards & I've wasted four fecking hours for a delivery you forgot to tell me isn't coming." - admittedly not the most eloquent of complaints, and some people may well have been offended. Notice though that she doesn't use their handle or even a hashtag. It's really unlikely anyone except her followers will have seen it, well until Next tweeted about it that is. She also tweeted at them that she was "pissed off" and perhaps this was what they objected to - but it's hardly a hanging offence and I might be using that level of profanity if I'd been made to wait 4 hours on a Sunday for nothing.

What Next don't seem to realise is that they can't control the Twitter channel any more than they control an individual's chat with friends. @Ox_bex was just tweeting to her followers - telling her friends how she felt, and Next had no more right to ask her to stop than management could interrupt a conversation she was having in a pub.

The Twittersphere reacted badly. Word spread about the response, there was a big online backlash   and various media marketing and tech blogs wrote about it. Some felt the request was tantamount to censorship and the worst kind of brand protectionism, others thought it was just terrible customer service.

I would be more sympathetic if it as a small company or family business - when you are personally invested in a brand it can be heartbreaking to see it besmirched online, even if you were to blame for the bad experience. But a brand as big as Next should know better (or should employ people that know better) than to coerce people into keeping quiet about an issue. Why not try to solve it? An apology, an offer or even a bit of humour can go a long way to appease a disgruntled customer. Clearly this High Street retailer has yet to realise this. Until they please!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

What will happen to the Pope's Twitter account?

Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Catholic world on 13th of February with his resignation announcement, but the Catholics weren't the only ones left wondering.

A mere couple of months earlier, the Pope had joined Twitter, and gained over 70,000 vast amount of followers in mere hours, even before he had started tweeting. @pontifex, as the account is called, tweets religious statements and reflections and has posted 36 tweets to date.

But what made the Pope decide to join Twitter in the first place? Was it pressure from some sort of Catholic PR machine? A statement from the Vatican said

'The Pope's presence on Twitter is a concrete expression of his conviction that the Church must be present in the digital arena'

so perhaps the initiative was driven by his holiness afterall. The Pope's resignation, however, has been markedly absent from his feed and he has posted tweets about Lent since the announcement.

But the big question is - as with all temporary offices - what will happen to the Twitter account when he has left? Although the law may be yet to fully catch up with this, Twitter accounts are generally regarded as the property of the person that is named in the handle and whose email address is linked to it. If it is an official account run on behalf of a company it is the property of the organisation who employs the individual.

Some companies are become more and more savvy about this, with contractual clauses governing the retention of the accounts - meaning that any followers accrued are the 'contacts' of the company and cannot be 'poached' (or taken with) an individual when they leave.

In politics this can cause issues, for example the @MayorOfLondon account, and all it's 630,000+ Boris fans will all become property of the next mayor if Boris loses an election, as he has a role-related handle rather than a personal one.

For the Pope I suspect that the same will be the case. @pontifex (and also the 8 different language versions of the account) refers to his role rather than Pope Benedict as an individual, so it belongs to the Vatican and eventually the next Pope. Not that Benedict will mind I'm sure (some reckon it was Social Media that made him feel too old for the post in the first place!), but will the next Pope want to continue the tweeting?

A new Pope will undoubtedly be younger, as the Vatican will seek to prevent any more resignations and stay 'in touch' with the younger church, so I'd predict he will want to carry on tweeting. Watch this (140 character) space!