social networking

How not to run your marketing department

When I joined Twitter, some 7,000 tweets ago, I thought it might be a fun way to dip my toe into this whole "social networking" gubbins that the media had been obsessing about for ages.

I loved it immediately. If nothing else, star-fucker that I am, I've had micro-conversations with Doctor Who good guys Steven Moffat, Clayton Hickman and Gary Gillatt. I've chatted with one of my favourite actor/comedians Chris Neill. And I've corresponded with lots of people from BBC Radio 4, as most of the continuity team and many of the news people hang out on Twitter.

More personally, I've kept in daily touch with friends I would never normally see like Kate, Jonathan and Tanya. And, best of all, I can chit-chat with my mum. What isn't there to like about it?

Because Twitter is public, when you say stuff on there it can be seen by everyone and anyone. Mostly, it isn't seen – people need to have a mind to look for you or the subject you're pontificating about before they're likely to see what you've said. Hashtags help you do this – they're the way of saying something witty or controversial and appending a current subject #doctorwho or #newsnight or #thearchers or something on the end so you get seen by others looking for the same stuff. Otherwise, you're basically only speaking to the people who "follow" you.

Also, of course, you're speaking to internet marketing people – and their automated bots – who are looking for people talking about their company or their products and are seeking to sell you more of them. Oh, and notionally provide customer service.

Sometimes this works well. Last year I mentioned a problem with some wallpaper I'd bought. Minutes later, the company involved was replying, seeking to help me out. Wallpaper Direct: +1 to you. I'll not be buying wallpaper from anyone else – shame you seem to have gone from Twitter.

Other companies have failed badly at this. At one end of the scale there are the bot-driven automated repliers, who pick out a keyword in your tweet and send a reply accordingly. This should be useful, but in practice it isn't, because the bots don't care where you are and are generally in the United States. So a tweet asking for a good online wine shop recently was answered by a couple of bots – all of which offered websites which delivered only to the lower 48 states. Fat lot of good that is.

This turns something useful into something annoying, but then online marketing nearly always turns something useful into something annoying. A useful email newsletter becomes annoying when, no matter what the fuck you do, you can't unsubscribe. Why is it my job to set up a filter to delete your emails? Yes, unsubscribing means you've lost me as an immediate customer, but not letting me unsubscribe means you've lost my goodwill. It's really really gonna cost you to win that back.

Google Adwords are a really useful thing turned annoying. Small, relevant ads for stuff I'm already searching for: Good. Small, irrelevant generic ads that are not for stuff I'm searching for: Bad. If I search for "curtains", I like getting ads for stores that make or sell curtains. I don't want adverts that read "Big Sales On Selected Curtains! Let Us Find The Curtains For You!" that lead to a site with nothing about curtains to be found. Also, I don't want those generic adverts for sites that take you to a page of links to shops selling curtains (hint: I've already got a page of those in front of me, because I'm already searching for curtains on Google).

The prize for useful-turned-annoying goes to Twitter though, as I said before. In particular it goes to BT, who have a particular knack for taking useful things and making them annoying.

A few months ago, my internet connection went down. The reasons why were obvious: there were several BT Openreach vans parked outside, with men looking down a big hole they'd dug. It wasn't rocket science to work out that BT Openreach digging + no internet = internet cut off by BT.

With no work possible and nothing better to do, I made coffee and opened Twitter on my phone. I told my followers what had happened. Because I mentioned BT, someone at BT doing a search saw I'd mentioned them. Quick as a flash, they tweeted to me in friendly, chatty terms. "Internet problems are a pain, aren't they?" they said. "Click here for some solutions to common problems".

Exactly what, I'd like to know, could I possibly, in any realm of the imagination, solve by clicking that link? There was a great big hole in the road that BT people were looking down. No solutions page – especially one that started with advice on how to restart my router (what would that achieve? There was still going to be that great big hole in the road that BT people were looking down) – could possibly help.

-1 to BT. I replied, somewhat intemperately, to ask them what they thought they were achieving by suggesting I reboot my router when there was a big hole in the road with BT engineers looking down it. They ignored me. Somehow, that was better than offering pointless non-advice. Also, it was much more like the BT we're all used to.

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Great timing

Well, wouldn’t you know it: just as I start my shiny new blog, my
employer sends round an email to the entire company reminding us of
our responsibilities when using “social media”. These guidelines, it
says, “must be followed” when posting on a blog.

I must comply with the company’s Code of Business and Ethics. If I’m
about to publish something and it makes me even the slightest bit
uncomfortable, I’m not to shrug it off and hit “send”. If I mention
the company, I must also mention that the posts are my own and do not
represent official statements or views of the company.

I must be honest. I must not be defamatory, obscene, libelous,
threatening, harassing or embarrassing to others. I must “use good
judgment”, whatever that means. I must respect copyright. I must guard
my privacy. I must “add value” to the community. I must admit to and
correct mistakes quickly.

To which all I can say is: fuck that.