Sunday 30 January 2011

Another weekend, another social media PR disaster

Boots. I salute you. Because damned if you do and damned if you don't just really bit you on the behind.

UKUncut have been out bringing protest and humour to the streets again today. And Boots have received a visitation due to their alleged (I don't know enough about all this so am using alleged) tax avoidance. It appears, superficially, that while police were outside the door CS gassing protestors, inside someone was tweeting this (via @nksheridan). It appears to come from @bootsmealdeals and appears to be commenting on Boots attitude to the polices reactions to the protestors.

The account has now been deleted. As has @bootsstores. Now ordinarily, my reaction to this would have been woah! overreaction much, and to question why they simply didn't issue an apology on the stream, explain that it had been a mistake and carried on, business as usual, because deleting the accounts simply makes them look a bit stupid, because as the link above clearly shows, nothing on the interwebs is ever actually deleted. Ever.

But then you start to look a little deeper and you wonder exactly how deep the doing it wrong goes. And it goes quite deep. A quick riffle through the website reveals a blog (I'll not pass comment, it's not fair) and no mention of Twitter, at all. Even in the Contact Us bit. So thanks to other Tweeters, I discovered an account, which has also been deleted, called @bootsstores. The only tweet from this account that I can easily find is this one. Funny Donkeys. Yes, you did read that right. Also, note the user pic.

So, we've got one of two situations here, and neither of them is very happy making for Boots. 1) two accounts which are not actually being run by Boots officially, but are being run by employees are merrily tweeting quite company reputation damaging stuff (yes it's only donkeys but really? First rule of running an official company Twitter account - be friendly but not over friendly and keep it vaguely related to business) because commenting on police action is just not the done thing or 2) you allowed two accounts which were nothing to do with you use your company name and cause quite widespread confusion when those two accounts are deleted, because if they're not you why have you waited until now to get them deleted and if they are you why do they look so unprofessional?

Whichever way you tilt your head, there are some very interesting issues here. In the midst of a backlash against social media consultants, I would argue that now more than ever they are needed (as long as they actually know what they're talking about and it might be helpful is there were some questions somewhere which people could use to filter out charlatans), and I would also argue that Twitter verification is really rather necessary and taking it away leaving a gaping void is damaging Twitters reputation as well as other peoples. The potential for damage to a company not keeping an eye on what is happening on social networks should not need to be pointed out and nor should I need to say no Funny Donkeys.

But it seems I need to. So, no funny donkeys. If you're tweeting from a company account, make it clear it is, put a logo on it. And if someone sets up a Twitter account which might be mistaken for your companies official mouthpiece, hunt them down and ask them nicely to cease and desist and if they wont, get your Legal Department on the case.

Don't be a Boots.


  1. We have lots of Twitter accounts at work (one of which I set up, though another team member uses it mostly now), many run by different departments (and one, I believe, run by an external agency).

    The Boots handling has made me think again about the importance of getting a policy / guidelines in place, from everything such as tone / use of language, how to use hashtags, graphics and styling.

    I'd much rather we had something like that in place and allowed people to keep innovating, rather than for someone in marketing / PR (who probably understands social media / the interwebs very badly) gets ahold of it and orchestrates a suffocating clampdown.

    Hmm something to put on my TODO list for Monday!

    PS: Good post! I don't know how the hell you manage to write this so quickly. :-)

  2. Iain> This is going to sound mad but it's a really difficult one. OTOH yes, you want people to innovate, feel free to find their own voice (on behalf of you), to build relationships with customers which persist so some brand loyalty is felt because you feel like a valued customer (something smaller more agile businesses can do very well). OTOH there's got to be edges to the sandpit. And I need to know, with the removal of the verification procedure by Twitter, whether the account I am dealing with is official or not, if only to prevent phishing disasters.

    It's a balancing act. But I do believe you can still play in the sand pit while not letting the sand leak out.

  3. I agree the removal of any form of verification process from Twitter is a bad move, and that verification should be easy and ubiquitous.

    They could trivially setup some sort of fully automated DNS or domain based domain verification (e.g. which sites like Google Analytics use) - a complete lack of of anything like that to replace the old system (which wasn't very scalable) is pretty puzzling.

  4. Iain> It's coming. And will be a paid for service. But for some reason, it's been coming for about 6 months or so now and it all seems to be going quite quiet. Which begs the question, did Twitter ever expect to create a platform to be used for business marketing, by the time they get around to it will there be anyone left to care, and finally, will anyone actually pay or does Twitter jump the shark the second they introduce paid models when everyone is so used to 'free'.