International Business: Angry Twitter mobs wield 'twitchforks' in worldwide attacks

Published: Friday, May 6 2011 7:00 a.m. MDT

“What you tend to find is that customers don’t expect to be listened to when they vent about a company on social media,” McKee said. “The reason they’re venting is because they feel as if they weren’t listened to in the first place. So this response is usually greeted with pleasant surprise. More often than not, it turns the customer into an evangelist for the organization in question.”

A recent Twitter blunder and quick recovery by the Red Cross also illustrates that it helps to quickly admit mistakes and use humor when appropriate. After one employee accidentally used the official @RedCross Twitter account to say, “Ryan found two more 4-bottle packs of Dogfish Head's Midas Touch beer…when we drink we do it right #Gettngslizzerd,” the employee admitted the mistake, and the Red Cross followed up in the middle of the night to tweet, “We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys.”

Another creative recovery idea comes from Netherlands-based marketing consultant Bastiaan van de Werk. When the company Carglass faced a Twitter mob repeating “#Carglasszuigt” (literally meaning, Carglass sucks) van de Werk boldly suggested that Carglass come out and admit that the company really sucks.

“Publicly admit that you suck and simply offer to vacuum the cars of customers who come by their shop and have their windows repaired or replaced for free!” explains van de Werk. “Either #Carglasszuigt dies a quick death or it becomes the kind of promotional stunt that will keep people talking for a while.”

Would these same tips also help to handle a virtual Twitter mob at a live event? A recent marketing conference I attended was a perfect recipe for such a disaster. From the start, organizers encouraged attendees to tweet incessantly using the conference hashtag so all tweets related to the event would be very visible and spark conversation.

Morning and afternoon presentations on social media and other marketing topics were excellent and set expectations high. Then, in the evening, attendees were given free drinks and gathered into a room with a disastrous keynote speaker.

I will not bore you with the details, but the speaker’s tone and content were absolutely not what the attendees or conference organizers expected. I admit I struggle to recall ever seeing a presentation even half as awkward. Instead of walking out, many attendees held a virtual roast of the speaker via Twitter and tried to hold back laughter at the scathing comments. Thankfully, the speaker’s colleagues saw the Twitterfeed and gestured to cut the presentation short about halfway through.

Aside from cutting the speech short, the speaker did nothing to pacify the angry Twitter mob. However, conference organizers recovered rather admirably by following most of the tips mentioned previously. They vigilantly identified the problem during the beginning of the speech, tried to save the presentation by posing helpful questions to steer the speaker, and then helped cut it short when all else failed. The organization could have acted faster with an explicit apology, but it did provide a somewhat humorous apology the next day and ended up treating the situation as a bit of a marketing case study in a subsequent presentation.

To diffuse live angry crowds or virtual, worldwide Twitter mobs, remember the following steps: be vigilant, act fast, make it personal, be creative and, when appropriate, admit mistakes and use humor. Causing offense is all too easy, but remedying it is often as simple as a quick and sincere apology.

Adam Wooten is director of translation services at Lingotek. He also teaches a course on translation technology at BYU. E-mail: awooten@lingotek.com . Follow him on Twitter at AdamWooten..

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