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News from Twitter

Having been fairly dismissive when Twitter first began to gain traction back in 2008, I am now (as you may have noticed) a convert. I have used previous posts to touch upon the reasons for my enthusiasm and I won’t restate those arguments now; maybe another time.

Characteristically, I remain bemused by those who fail to see what it is that makes Twitter so compelling, and find myself taking it personally when I hear or read comments that criticise Twitter as if the medium itself were responsible for some of the sillier things that take place on the site. (Clue: it’s the users; no one blames TV for Jeremy Clarkson.)

Increasingly, Twitter is creating the news agenda, with the last week being particularly febrile. Whether it was the creation of an ‘Official’ Gary Glitter hashtag or Joey Barton’s decision to use his Twitter feed to slag off his recently-departed manager, Colin Wanker (yes, anagram fans, it’s really true!), the national press and television news all referenced Twitter incessantly.

This constant stream of ‘news’ stories is one thing, but the positive side of Twitter is making the headlines today, and this story is the perfect microcosm of both Twitter and its representation and misrepresentation in the wider world.

Last night I saw a number of closely bunched and fairly vitriolic tweets – from significant tweeters – directed at LA Fitness. If you haven’t caught up with the story yet, this is related to a Guardian piece about a pregnant woman whose husband had lost his job, and her futile attempts to get LA Fitness to allow them to cancel their £720 gym membership. Despite evidence that the couple were struggling to afford to feed their children, LA Fitness refused to waive the debt. Yeah, I know…makes you proud to belong to the same species, doesn’t it?

A national newspaper had failed to bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion over a number of weeks; within three hours, the Twitter campaign had managed to get an apology and full refund from the hapless gym co. Twitter excels in its ability to generate righteous fury when things are demonstrably wrong, and this was an open and shut case. LA Fitness blamed a “communication breakdown” for the situation; I should imagine that the tweet from Owen Jones encouraging mass membership cancellation by LA Fitness members and the subsequent financial damage might have had more to do with it. But maybe that’s just me being cynical.

Anyway, today some elements in the marketing press labelled this as a social media fail by LA Fitness. Wrong: this was a humanity fail righted by social media. I am sure that when the sainted Caitlin Moran first laced up her DMs and set foot in the Melody Maker offices she wouldn’t have guessed that one day she’d be in a position where she could secure an almost immediate retraction from a multi-national company simply by circulating a newspaper article. (By the way, if you haven’t read How to be a Woman, you really must.)

And herein lies the marketing lesson: social media strategies are all well and good, but ultimately any company is only as good as its employees (or its culture). If you’re a Direct Debit-hoovering behemoth staffed by heartless, compassion free arseholes (you can have that one for nothing, guys) then having a joined-up social media strategy – or not –  isn’t going to make much difference.

Categories: Social media strategy
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