Twitter has become the preferred channel to test the mood of the person in the street, and specifically those in the all-important digital community including millennials and other key elements of the population. And every institution, brand or person who systematically fails to listen, respond, engage or interact with not just her clients but the online community as a whole risks unleashing its wrath and suffering a quick and painful erosion of their prestige and credibility, let alone losing a valuable opportunity to improve their image, find support, apologize (why does it continue to be ‘mission impossible’ for some of our household brands?) or mount a vigorous defense when the situation calls for it.
It is therefore nothing less than shocking to witness the proliferation in Twitter of a new (mutant) species amongst our best-known commercial and personal brands that disregards criticism and feedback as a rule even when – as it is currently happening in Spain with the backlash against the Olympic Committee and its chairman after the fiasco of the official kit to be worn by Spanish athletes at the London Olympics – they are being denigrated and vilified in the social and traditional media alike. If the microbloggy blue bird was created to chirp and tweet happily away, some of our institutional and business representatives together with a number of notorious yet ill-advised personal brands have degenerated into ostriches that bury their heads in the sand at the sign of trouble imitating the largest of our flightless birds.
The list of ostriches is surprising in its breadth and scope, and includes all those who mechanically publish messages as automaton loudspeakers and in the best of cases sporadically retweet some mention. Before our most cynical readers jump to conclusions, I hasten to add that this communication policy has nothing to do with size or numbers of followers – though needless to say the latter makes it almost impossible for big Twitter accounts to engage with every single comment. The fact that there is in many cases not even a standardized answer, or that no effort is made to implement technological solutions – ITweetLive comes to mind – that would allow them to do so is a telling sign. The fact is: bidirectional communication continues to remain an uncharted territory for many despite all the hype about ‘engagement’.
Perhaps the most pernicious unintended side-effect our new ostriches face is the so-called ‘boomerang effect’ that their short-sighted attitude provokes, especially in crisis scenarios where they find themselves in the eye of the hurricane at the epicenter of the Twittersphere wrath. As America’s most prominent crisis management expert Eric Dezenhall has pointed out: “When one has done wrong, repentance is required. When one has been wronged, a vigorous defence must be mounted.” To this we could add: if you are receiving a seemingly never-ending cascade of messages everyday requesting a back down – as it is currently the case with @COE_ES and its chairman Mr Alejandro Blanco – and you have been trending topic more than once in the past week for the wrong reasons, silence is hardly an option; it only serves to infuriate the community and your unrelated, scripted tweets will make you sound all the more callous.
The Twittersphere is often spontaneously mobilized when it perceives a glaring mistake by a brand. Little would we care about the bruises to their ego the brand in question is likely to suffer – after all, they have had the time and the opportunity to react and have blatantly failed to do so after hundreds of warnings – were it not for the collateral damage that their playing deaf ears brings on to their customers and followers – and in the case of the Olympic Committee and their atrocious choice of clothing to the brand ‘Spain’ as a whole. If ostriches strut their way across the farms with their more than 300lbs of weight and insufferable hiss, their destiny is usually the abattoir and little more than their eggs and fur is left of them in the end. Perhaps that is the destiny that the most obtuse and obstinate of our Twitter ostriches metaphorically deserve for ignoring the community the pleaded to serve and answer to. The jury is out.
Oscar Del Santo is a lecturer, consultant, key speaker, blogger and populariser of online reputation and inbound marketing in Spain. He has been extensively featured in the Spanish and Latin American media and is included in the ‘Top Social Media Influencers’ and ‘Best Marketing Tweeters in Spanish’ lists @OscarDS. He is the author of ‘Reputacion Online para Tod@s’ and the co-author of ‘Marketing de Atraccion 2.0’.