There’s been a couple of very poor examples of using social media in the UK and Ireland over the past week. In Ireland, it is the turn of the national Gas Company, Bord Gais, for really doing a spectacularly bad job at managing their reputation online. A while back they launched a new campaign to entice customers to switch providers of electricity over to them, in a campaign called The Big Switch, and with this they orchestrated an outreach programme to the online community where they identified 100 “influencers” and met up with them to solicit their feedback. They ran a good offline campaign and garnered quite a bit of online support from the blogosphere over the course of the campaign. They also instigated a Twitter account @TheBigSwitchIrl which did a pretty good job of engaging with the public – the guy who ran the account had a very natural way of interacting with followers and helped organise user participation in Ad shoots and ran competitions. So all that was good.
Then the company lost 75000 details with bank account numbers last week on laptops that were not encrypted when stolen (why they were on laptops in the first place is another question) and all of a sudden they put a gagging order on all social media activities. Obviously people were asking questions to the @TheBigSwitchIrl account, but rather than answering them – the only post they have issued since then has been a link to the press release – other than that there has been no communication on the account. They even reverted to getting the PR agency who deal with the company to start RT the link to the boilerplate press release – and left it to them to answer a few of the questions.
What this tells us is that Bord Gais actually don’t take any of this social media seriously – it was just a marketing ploy to go along with the campaign. And if things get serious (like losing 75000 people details), they will revert back to the old way, which is issue a bland press release and then say nothing, and wait till it all blows over. What they sould have done was start answering questions immediately on twitter, organise for the CEO to get himself onto twitter or some other social channel to answer questions and explain what the situation was, and exactly what would happen if people’s bank accounts started getting hacked, and let people know of all the measures that were now being taken to ensure no details would be unencrypted or kept on laptops, and also answer the legitimate questions that people had in relation to why their details were being downloaded onto laptops (by an apparently irregular process that violated the companies internal rules). But they didn’t and now their social media presence and reputation is very tarnished – it will be very difficult for them to re-start the good work that was done at the beginning. All because they reverted back to old school “tell them nothing” tactics. I think it’s time they started thinking more openly and realise that old style PR lock downs don’t work and people openly talk about what an appaling job you are doing – which hurts your brand.
In the UK, Habitat have done a really good job at damaging their reputation this week. It was noticed by SocialMediaToday that the new HabitatUK twitter account was using trending hashtags to trick users into clicking on their marketing driven tweets. For a big brand to be engaging in this was insane. They were hoping when people went onto twitter search that they would see their link and click through (and hopefully follow them). So Spam. This was wrong on so many levels. Not least because one of the hastags they used was #moussavi who is the main leader of the opposition in Iran which was obviously trending high last week. So basically, someone in Habitat decided to try and piggyback on a political movement where people were getting killed to get a few cheap links – it defies belief. So when this was pointed out, they then went and started trying to delete the posts. But thanks to twitter search, you cannot delete them until they come down off the twitter archive. So they are there for all to see. But rather than come out and hold their hands up and say they made a huge mistake they brazened it out and continued to tweet special offers etc…
Then today, Thusday 25th June, they come out and apologised and said that it was done out of ignorance and they obviously would never use a political issue to garner any benefit from. So at least they had the good grace to go and admit that they had messed up big time. But a couple of people then started asking who was actually doing the tweeting for them, was it an agency and if so why were they using an agency in the first place. Then Habitat come back and announce on the SocialMediaToday site that it was in fact an intern and he’s been fired. Whats amazing is that big organisations do not understand how the online community think. Blaming and firing an intern is nearly as bad as the initial cock-up. They need to take responsibility for their actions and be seen to do so. Why not fire the person who hired and allowed the intern to run roughshoud initally – thats who I’d be firing. And blaming an intern is ridiculous and it shows how little they value and understand social media and the online community in general.
Lessons out of all this, is that big organisations have a long way to travel before they understand how to participate meaningfully with the social web. And its about time that anyone in responsible roles started understanding and stop claiming ignorance – because there’s no excuse. And rather than hiring and firing junior roles for mistakes made, those who do the hiring should step up to the plate.