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.
In 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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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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.
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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.