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Lessons from #Twitter-Fail

There have been a few well documented instances of massive Twitter-fails this week.  Organisations have been opening themselves up to questioning on Twitter using targeted hashtags.

British Gas decided to put Customer Services Director Bert Pijls live on Twitter the day the after raising prices by 9.2% using the hashtag #AskBG.  The reaction was predictable and harsh.

Four days later Ryanair sent boss, Michael O’Leary, into the bearpit using the hashtag #GrillMOL. Comments he posted showed that the briefing on how Twitter works might not have been as comprehensive as he might have wished for.  Again the reaction was pretty predictable for an airline with their reputation for customer service. 

Only yesterday the European Union sent President Herman Van Rumpuy into the fray with hashtag #AskThePresident . Not surprisingly he was inundated with negative comments.

So the clear outcome was humiliation for the organisation and a great opportunity for Social Media commentators and newspapers to the twist the knife by highlighting their failure and lack of understanding of how Twitter works.  And yes that does include me!

But reflecting on events often brings a different perspective. Were the three examples listed really the massive fails they first appeared?

All three organisations must have known they were onto a hiding for nothing. All have very vocal critics. So little was lost by engaging with their public!  British Gas were able to deflect a little of the criticism of the price rises by stating that at least they were listening.

Ryanair took a lot of abuse from people who would probably not use their airline again anyway, but panning through the dirt they found a few nuggets that will help them develop their business and the ever combative Michael O’Leary seemed to enjoy himself.

Mr Van Rumpuy would not have been shocked to find that many in the UK are not keen on the EU; he might be a bit more surprised to get confused with the USA President and blamed for Obamacare but he still was able to find enough people to engage with to make the exercise worthwhile.

So what are the lessons we can take from these three examples?

Engaging with your critics maybe an unpleasant experience but if you can filter the pearls of wisdom from the chaff you will learn more from critics than your greatest supporters.  You don’t need to use Twitter to do this, just meet your most dis-satisfied customer for coffee.

The old adage says “All publicity is good publicity” and these three examples all had the effect of creating publicity, not least from the on-going debate from social media experts about how badly they failed.

We also learned that you need to be pretty thick skinned if you want to be the high profile head of a publicly recognised organisation.  And the higher the recognition, the thicker the skin you will need.  Taking that level of abuse, then going home to sleep soundly is not for the faint-hearted.

Finally we learned that Twitter is a rough, tough place, a bit like the Wild West.  There are no rules as to what works and what fails, sometimes it takes guts and imagination to try things and find out what will happen.  Learning usually involves a degree of failing, so I’m pretty sure all three organisation will be acting on what they have learnt, not worrying about their perceived failures.

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Nigel Wilkinson
Nigel is the Managing Director of WNW Digital. In addition to his business interests he is married to movement teacher Michelle, the father of teenage twins, an avid Networker, a Social Media commentator, a keen golfer and football supporter. He is also an active member of Exmouth Chamber of Commerce, being Chairman from 2009 - 2011. You can contact him on 01392 349580.

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