How to lose friends and alienate people on Twitter

28 July 2011 by Kevin Holdridge  
Filed under Social marketing

It would be funny if it wasn’t so shameful. Microsoft’s fragrant PR team for XBox360 has provided a classic illustration of the mantra that we always try to emphasise to clients – clumsy and inappropriate use of social media is worse than not using them at all.

winehouse_tweetIn this instance, some clever PR type thought it would be a good idea to capitalise on the untimely death of Amy Winehouse. So they posted a message on Twitter exhorting people to “remember Amy” by buying  her music from Microsoft’s Zune online store. One of the key benefits to businesses in using social media is that you make yourself part of a community and can convey a sense of character. This tweet was a disaster because:

  1. It portrayed Microsoft as greedy, opportunistic and insensitive (while that’s possibly no surprise to most people, reminding us of it so effectively is almost certainly not what the PR people are being paid for).
  2. It was crass and inappropriate in the context of Twitter. People use Twitter to give and receive news and information and to share comments and observations. Clumsy sales pitches, especially ones based on exploitation of misfortune, are discordant in that environment. The rule of thumb is “don’t sell at the party”, i.e. keep the communication appropriate to the context.
  3. When you make this kind of mistake in social media, there is nowhere to hide, and word spreads fast. I did a Google search just now (see  the screenshot). That showed 9.4 million references on the Web (within two days of the incident), most of them mentioning that Microsoft has been forced to apologise. That’s a lot of bad publicity in a very short time, all from a single 140 character message.

This first mistake was bad enough. But then the very bright PR people at Microsoft panicked when they began to get the backlash. Yes, they thought they would make it all better by posting another Tweet conveying their sincerity and human warmth: “Apologies to everyone if our earlier Amy Winehouse ‘download’ tweet seemed purely commercially motivated. Far from the case, we assure you.” Well that’s OK then! The only good thing about that response is that it has given me more classic material for this case study.  The message here is that when you get caught out on social media, you need to be serious about damage limitation and reputation recovery. That half-hearted and unconvincing tweet just reinforced the impression that these people are cynical and untrustworthy.

In this kind of situation, you need either ignore it so that the furore atrophies quickly (a risky strategy) or to tackle it head-on convincingly and effectively. In Microsoft’s position, I would have considered making a proper apology (not the weasel worded thing they issued) acknowledging that a mistake had been made and showing contrition. I’d also think about making some kind of gesture to show that I was serious about making good. That might have meant offering the downloads for free (and refunding those who had already bought),  or making some kind of donation (maybe to a substance misuse charity). Anything that showed I was willing to take some pain rather than hope to get away with it via another 140 character message.


What they actually did – almost unbelievably – was to post a third cynical tweet: “With Amy W’s passing, the world has lost a huge talent. Our thoughts are with Amy’s family and friends at this very sad time“.   Pure genius.  You can see now why they got 9.4 million negative mentions in two days.

It may be that the Microsoft PR people were working on  the principle that all publicity is good publicity. More likely, those responsible are now working through their contacts books to find new jobs.  To be fair, we frequently come across PR agencies struggling to understand how to harness the immense power and potential of social media (even though their own promotional material generally suggests that they are actually brilliant masters of it) and to avoid making the most basic mistakes.

Compare and contrast with the iTunes store.  They saw the commercial opportunity too, of course, and they posted a prominent “Remembering Amy” feature in their store encouraging people to buy the music. And yet, they suffered no opprobrium. The reason for that apparent inconsistency goes back to our theme of the right message in the right place. Visitors at the iTunes store are there to buy and expect the shop to be promoting certain products and to help them find topical material. In this case, you’re in  the shop, not at a party, so the dynamics and expectations are quite different.

If you’d like some no-pressure and competent advice or discussion on using social media effectively to help your business or organisation, here are some options:

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There’s a whole world of possibilities out there! It would be a shame to miss out or to mess up!

Cambridge researchers give privacy scores to social networking sites

26 March 2010 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under News and views

Researchers from the Computer Laboratory’s Security Group at the University of Cambridge have just published the results of their privacy survey of 45 popular social networking (SN) sites from all over the world. The expertise and research findings of this group, led by Ross Anderson, has previously made headlines in the ZDnet, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Mirror and the Register, and has been shown on Newsnight.

More than 200 criteria related to privacy policies and privacy controls were used by Cambridge researchers to evaluate 45 SN sites. Examples of criteria include:

  • the amount of data collected during sign up
  • the default privacy settings
  • whether information is routinely shared with third parties

SN sites have previously been criticised in the press for their privacy practices and so not surprisingly the academics found strong evidence that the SN market is not providing users with adequate privacy controls. However, the survey results also indicate a lot of variation in quality of SN sites. Bebo, LinkedIn and GaiaOnline were found to have the best privacy practices of all, while Badoo, CouchSurfing and MyLife were found to have the weakest. Arguably the most popular in the SN community, Facebook and MySpace, were found to have privacy controls of mediocre quality, but these two sites have also more features than other SN site and so it is harder to maintain their privacy. Furthermore, most sites were found to have very confusing and difficult to access privacy settings and among that cohort Facebook with its 61 privacy settings was the worst. Ironically, the survey found that sites that made privacy a selling point tended to have lower-quality privacy controls.

A major privacy problem with SN sites is they consistently hide accessible privacy information for users in order to reduce privacy salience for marketing purposes and instead advertise the benefits of disclosing personal data through connecting with friends, meeting new people and sharing pictures. However, the data also suggests that sites may have evolved specifically to communicate differently to users with different levels of privacy concern.

Overall, more popular SN sites have more resources to devote to the problem of privacy and they are more often scrutinised in the media over protection of user data than their less known counterparts and so their privacy controls are better maintained. Cambridge researchers believe that by revealing the privacy practices of all sites more pressure will be put on major sites to add further protections for users and less popular sites will also realise that good protection of their users’ data may lead to higher growth.

Facebook beats Google to top place

17 March 2010 by Yvonne Conway  
Filed under Social marketing

According to Hitwise, Facebook has now replaced Google as the top visited website in the United States for the week March 7th – 13th.

If you were unconvinced about the popularity and power of social networking, this one fact alone should convince you otherwise. This amazing trend is set to continue if the numbers are to be believed. Comparing the increase in Facebook visits year on year to those of Google, Facebook comes out on top with a whopping 185% increase in site visits. Google’s year on year increase seems insignificant in comparison at a modest 9%.

This new success for social networking follows on from last year’s triumph over personal email accounts. Social networking sites became the most popular way to send personal email, taking over from the likes of Yahoo! Gmail and Hotmail.

Social networking seminar attracts large audience

24 September 2009 by Kevin Holdridge  
Filed under Social marketing

Kent House and Keele University Science and Business Park recently organised a joint seminar on social networking. The event, held on 9 September 09 at Keele Hall, was attended by nearly 100 delegates from all sectors of the local community – including small and large businesses, professional bodies, local authority, voluntary sector, and education.

The aims of the event were: to introduce social networking; to explain some of the jargon and issues around social media and social marketing; to suggest some of the opportunities offered by these new online channels for reaching people more effectively than is possible by traditional means; and to offer some examples of how social networking has been implemented locally.

The event was chaired by Rosi Monkman of Keele University Science and Business Park. The presenters were:

Kevin Holdridge, Managing Director, Kent House

A brief on what Social Networking is, how to get it right and avoid common pitfalls

Linda Jones, Managing Director, Passionate Media

An in-depth study on how to boost your business using social networking media

Hannah Hiles, Media and Communications Officer, Keele University

A case study on how social networking sites helped a business to engage with its customers

There is currently a lot of buzz as well as confusion around social networking, and this was reflected in the lively questions-and-answers session at the end of the presentations.

We have made available here the slides and video from the event.

Want to keep up to date with social networking?

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Slides – social networking presentations

The slides from the event are stored on Slideshare, and embedded here:

Video – social networking presentations

Click on any of the speakers’ names below to see video of their presentation.

Social networking sites keep ‘deleted’ photos

26 May 2009 by Anna Mieczakowski  
Filed under Social marketing

The security research group from the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge have recently announced the results of their latest study on the deletion of personal photos from the social networking sites such as Facebook. Cambridge academics claim that user photographs can still be found on many social networking sites even after 30 days or more since people have deleted them.

A Facebook spokesman claims that when a user deletes his or her photos from their profile, all those photos are removed from the company’s servers “immediately”. However, the Cambridge University team found quite the opposite. The research group performed an experiment during which they uploaded photos to a several social networking sites, including Facebook, Flickr, Google’s Picasa and Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces. The academics then deleted those pictures from their online profiles, but kept a note of direct URLs to the photos from the sites’ content delivery networks. When the researchers checked the URLs 30 days later, most of the links to photos continued to work even though a typical user might think the photos had been removed. As BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones puts it: “you may have put your pictures in Facebook’s bin, but you will still have to wait for the content delivery network to delete them”. Furthermore, special photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr and Google’s Picasa, did better than Facebook and Microsoft’s Windows Live Spaces removed the photos instantly.

It is not the first time that Facebook has breached user privacy as recently users of Facebook staged a revolt over rules which would have given the site permanent ownership of their data.

Joseph Bonneau, a lead researcher of this project, concludes that “social networking sites often take a lazy approach to user privacy, doing what’s simpler rather than what is correct and it’s imperative to view privacy as a design constraint, not a legal add-on”.

Kent House on Facebook

19 March 2009 by Yvonne Conway  
Filed under News and views

Just this week Kent House has gotten its very own Facebook page!

If you want to check out any upcoming events or become a fan of Kent House, why not pay us a visit.

As the page has just been set up this week, it is looking a little bare, so check it out, post a link to your site (always good for SEO!) and add a few comments!

You may notice if you visit the page that we have an event coming up in June, we will be sending out official invitations to over the coming months and you will be able to register online using our award winning EventManager event management system. However if you want to log your interest now, just send me a quick email and I will make sure you are on the invitation list.