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How to manage a Twitterstorm Part 3

E-commerce · 7 min read

Managing a Twitterstorm Part 3

When it all went wrong

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton, a champion racing car driver with 5.7 million followers. You’d think if you had that many people following your movements you’d probably consider things carefully before posting. In December, he posted a video of himself publicly shaming his nephew for wearing a dress. Suffice to say it did not go down well.

It’s a double shaming, people then shamed Lewis for shaming his nephew. However, one good thing to come out of the backlash from this is that there was a huge discussion around how far to take shaming, and the power of the online lynch mob.

Virgin Trains
And Virgin Trains staff showed how not to respond to a sexist complaint, by making the situation worse. When a customer Tweeted her dislike at being called ‘honey’ by a member of staff, Virgin Trains Tweeted back a shockingly sarcastic reply saying ‘sorry for the mess up Emily, would you prefer “pet” or “love” next time? This didn’t impress their customers too much, and caused a huge amount of anger and discontent.

The uber cool TV and Film streaming service recently got criticized for Tweeting creepy stats about its customers. Such as the fact that 53 people watched A Christmas Prince every day for 18 days. They may not be breaking any privacy laws, but this raised questions over what info about their customers they should and shouldn’t share.


UK supermarket Morrisons failed when someone posted a picture of Morrisons products, asking which one a friend wanted. A member of staff in the store intervened and said taking pictures was against store policy. Then three different members of staff responded on Twitter and made what was a minor issue a lot worse.

Another example of this is the Sephora hashtag which missed out the ‘O’ in #CountdownToBeauty..

Making the most out of a potentially tricky situation

Back in 2009, a video was released on YouTube of two Domino's employees doing unpleasant things to the food they were preparing. It was pretty shocking for customers to see and quickly got picked up by the worldwide media.

But Dominos have had a comeback since then. In the short term, they set up a Twitter account at the time to deal with questions. Now the brand now has 1.25 million followers on Twitter and managed to claw their way back from the scandal.

Is all publicity good publicity?

There’s an age-old notion that if people are talking about you, even if in a negative way, it’s a good thing and it’s fair to say that the answer in most cases is no. How you react to initial bad publicity will determine how much fire you’ll end up having to fight. June Kenton of lingerie brand Rigby & Peller published a book called ‘Storm in a D Cup’ containing very mild personal accounts of her dealings with the Royal family, in contravention of the terms of her Royal Warrant. Consequently, the brand was stripped of its warrant, became a news story and trended for a week on Twitter, with many poking fun at the brand. 

In 2015, hackers leaked the names of 30 million people who were using infidelity website Ashley Madison, causing a huge storm, shaming thousands of married men and women and making their ‘anonymous’ service not so anonymous. Did it kill off Ashley Madison? Far from it. The brand is bigger than ever.

Ever watched the film Borat? It pokes fun at the country Kazakhstan, but after the film, reported a 300% increase in requests for information about the country. Often, it’s the smaller, less known brands that do better from bad publicity, even if it is from a Twitterstorm. Researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Business say that occasionally bad publicity can increase sales for lesser known brands.

Can you pretend it isn’t happening?

The thing about crowds is they usually want to get some sort of response out of their shame.

Some people bury their head in the sand in the hope that their persecutors will simply get bored. But the problem with the internet is everyone has an opinion, so even if you aren’t talking about your scandal, other people will be - and you may want to take action to manage that.

Some may try to ignore the mass hysteria, whilst others may try to get rid of the evidence or fight it before it goes viral. This often backfires, resulting in the 'Streisand effect' - when an individual or organization tries to take something down or apply legal pressure and it only results in more attention being paid to the asset in question.

Preventative policies

It’s clear that small and large businesses alike need to have clear preventative policies, as well as crisis management procedures. Dedicated playbooks on when to engage with genuine queries and comments, and when to steer clear of trolls. 

According to the 2017 WASP Barcode Technologies’ State of Small Business Report, only 37% of small businesses said they use designated business social media accounts to reach their audiences. Brands need to be reachable on Twitter to respond to customer complaints in a constructive way. Twitter users send more than 100,000 questions, complaints, and comments to major American airlines alone every month. It’s certainly worth having a designated employee who is responsible for responding to issues. And, if you’ve got a social media team, each and every member needs to be on board with your management strategy.

Lastly, here’s an example from close to home. When fashion brand Vetements used the DHL logo in their fashion line, instead of taking legal action and calling out Vetements, DHL jumped at the opportunity for a collaboration. The result was a huge success, with the Vetements DHL shirts selling out and fetching around $252. News outlets around the world covered the unusual collaboration avidly. Bloggers and celebrities Tweeted pictures in their DHL t- shirts and the line was in extremely high demand with people scrambling to buy Vetements clothing.

In conclusion, it seems you can come back from any Twitter Storm if you pick the right strategy. The key takeaway here is to make sure all your staff are informed, that there’s a proofing and approval process for social media posts, with specific topics to avoid, and a clear plan of action for when people make unfortunate mistakes.