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We've seen a fresh batch of Twitter 'storms' erupt over the past few weeks that are destined to feature in the presentations of many a social media speaker for the next year.

O2 held it's head high following a data leak, Snickers is being investigated by the ASA and @LAFitness has come out of the week fairly bruised. A good, bad, and ugly you might say. 

While many of these, like so many other examples, pass by without long-term damage - some survive and cause reputational problems that could easily have been avoided.

We've gathered together four experts to ask their opinion of the three cases, and provide input on best practice for responding to such situations.

What's your take on the Snickers issue? 

Will McInnes, MD Nixon McInnes: Although well-planned, innovative and cheeky, ultimately the Snickers campaign was spam. The #spon hashtag isn't well enough understood to clearly communicate that the celebrity tweets were paid for which is a shame, because there's a good creative idea in there.

Seen from a social business perspective, this campaign reveals that Snickers clearly still thinks of the social web as a broadcast channel, and not a channel for authentic, human-to-human dialogue. That will change. 

Bridey-rae Lipscombe, head of social at Rabbit: My view is a straightforward one, Snickers has done no wrong. The ASA's main aim under the CAP code, which now applies to social media comments adopted as 'marketing messages', is to prevent misleading campaigns that "distort the economic behavoir of consumers'. To have an impact on the audience in question, the final punch line tweet is crucial.

Without the final tagline and #spon tag the content would in no way impact Snickers. But would I ensure #spon tags are included in all 'marketing messages' in our campaigns, without a doubt.  

Matt Owen, social media manager, Econsultancy: On a personal level, I couldn’t care less. I think that ads are par for the course on any platform –if I were listening to a football match on the radio and there was a Snickers ad halfway through, then I wouldn’t be angry about it, so why on Twitter?

A lot less seems to have been made of Katie Price’s involvement than Rio Ferdinand. It seems naive to expect a premiership footballer to be somehow above sending sponsored tweets, whatever the OFT guidelines. 

That said, there is a relevance issue here. Brands getting sponsored tweets from celebrities are still utilising broadcast theory when they should be thinking about highly relevant targeting. Are Rio’s fans the best group to sell Snickers to? Is Twitter the best medium to use?

If it were a TV ad, it would be clear and make sense, on Twitter there’s a lot of room for confusion that brands need to consider more carefully. Misinterpretation has been the cause of a lot of negative sentiment on various social platforms. 

Matt Rhodes, strategy director at FreshNetworks: I mainly think it's a real shame that its social media strategy involves paying 'celebrities' to Tweet for them. This may create some buzz (although I'd imagine the buzz commenting on the campaign is greater than the buzz about the product) but it seems to miss out on the opportunities that social media (Twitter in particular) can deliver. 

If you want real reach then nothing still beats traditional ATL - you don't look to social media to reach millions and millions in one hit; to do that you buy a spot on XFactor. Rather than paying a few celebrities to tweet about products, Snickers might have got more benefit in social media from finding real influencers - people who don't necessarily have millions of people who follow them, but are more likely to cause people to see, react and respond to what it they are saying. 

Snickers could have got more for its money spending time on a real influencer outreach programme over a longer period than what are essentially traditional paid celebrity endorsements in social media. 

What should LAFitness have done? Or did it do an ok job at managing the crisis and it was just a bad situation that couldn't be avoided? 

WM: For LA Fitness it is pretty disappointing to see a bad case of the 'let's pretend nothing is happening' on the LA Fitness official Twitter account. From a social business point of view, where's the wholeness of LA Fitness here? As an annoyed consumer, I don't want a monologue of health tips right now - I want answers, actions, some kind of a response, something meaty and meaningful. Some work to do, clearly!

B-rL: This in an example of worst practice, one that is so extreme that LAFItness is now the poster child for the latest OFT investigation. Any experience in online customer service tells us that we should deal with complaints in a timely fashion to prevent escalation.

In this instance, LAFitness mistakenly allowed too much time to pass, so much time that the debate around the complaint took to social and amplified the problem to a whole new level.

Its initial line, quoted from small print not only appears spammy but totally lacking in any empathy for the couple. Despite an inability at this time to waive the fees some human compassion should have been shown, as any good community manager knows, it is essential to portray the human behind the feed. 

What should it have done? It should have responded with empathy and ensured that any comment was final. To buckle under the pressure leaves the business looking weak and completely out of touch with its audience - but at least it's apologised.  

MO: It’s an unfortunate case and highlights the rather old fashioned view a lot of businesses have about using social. In the past, short of a letter-writing campaign (which you could still completely ignore, should the fancy take you), there was very little the average customer could do to air their grievances.

Even coverage in the Guardian would have been fairly short-lived. With Twitter, it’s easy to strike up a continuing, visible campaign. You do need to consider your response, but as it was already at trending point, LA Fitness should have immediately made an announcement that it was looking into the case and had contacted the couple in question.  

Refusing to comment is probably the worst thing you can do. It shows condescension for Twitter users and their concerns, and if there’s one thing Twitter loves, it’s something to be outraged about. If you’ve upset someone and it’s mentioned on a social channel, say sorry straight away. Explain why it happened and use it as an opportunity to improve your customer service and show your audience how hard you work to fix things –show how important your customers are to you. DON’’T ignore it. It may have been unavoidable, but it certainly could have been mitigated far more effectively.

MR: On the LA Fitness issue, I think this is an interesting look at how the press (in this case the Guardian) and social media work together on an issue. The Guardian were the ones who investigated and found out the facts about what was happening in this case; it also gave a very clear opinion about what it thought of this.

Social media really just served to amplify that investigation and message. For brands (again something they should already know) this is a reminder that just as they might use social media to amplify their messages, others can use it to amplify messages about them that they might not necessarily want shared. Social media does give stories continued life and makes sure they reach people who would not normally read them.

What is interesting, perhaps is that what the Guardian consumer column failed to get this issue fixed, social media did.

What are the things O2 did that helped them through the tunnel during one of the worst data leaks of the past year?

WM: Judging by these recent kerfuffles, O2 is obviously on the social business journey and get it (we would say that, we work with them, but its behaviour last week backs that up). Snickers are still at the playful but limited early stages and LA Fitness need an experienced personal trainer to get it into decent shape. 

What O2 did was simply crisis comms best practices done well and done quickly - a holding statement immediately, a blog response, a full statement and press Q&A. And it works. Unfussy, open, always-on communication. Dialogue at scale isn't easy, but it's good to see brands like O2 and others trying.

B-rL: A thorough and logical approach, providing an in-depth statement online then taking to Twitter to address each individual message in a timely and personal manner. I can't say even with hindsight that it could have done any more. 

Mostly, I admire O2's ability to turn the angle of the story, repositioning the company as experts in online communication. Managing your message on Twitter in times of crisis is not complex but it requires focus, time and dedication which O2 illustrate so very well in its most recent statements. 

MO: In short, O2 took action. It took some time, and frankly it shouldn’t have been doing this in the first place, but the company did at least realise it was a big issue - then took steps to remedy it. It also took time to reassure people personally. In some cases this is a mistake which can escalate an issue (people do like to get a reaction after all), but here it seems like the right thing to do. 

MR: A quick caveat; FreshNetworks currently works for Telefonica, the parent company of O2 UK on social media projects. Overall the lesson from all of these examples (as we should know by now) is that any situation that a brand gets itself into is likely to be surfaced on Twitter. The truth of the story will be found out and revealed.

If you've done something bad / treated somebody badly, that will also get found out. One of the things that distinguishes a brand from one that is 'using social media' to one that considers itself more as a social business, is that they will be thinking about how their actions across their business will impact what people say about them (in real life as well as in social media) and how this impacts the decisions they make and what they choose to do. 

Vikki Chowney

Published 6 February, 2012 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

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