As a result of the recent Jack Monroe – Katie Hopkins defamation suit there is now, for the first time, a legal definition of “How Twitter Works”. This comes in the form of 26 bite size points which go through, one-by-one, the different ways in which people can interact on the social media site.
The guidance has come in for some light-hearted mockery online (matter-of-fact explanations of the world of hashtags, DMs and retweets makes strangely entertaining reading). But it also gives an indication of how the judiciary is bringing the somewhat unregulated realm of social media more directly into their sphere of influence.
It provides little that the majority of those in our line of work don’t already know – for most of us social media forms part of our everyday lives, both at work and at home. However, this theme of how to use Twitter has driven me to contemplate how brands use Twitter and social media more broadly to engage with the public.
As Cadbury UK has found out in recent weeks, social media can be as much of a danger to companies as a benefit. The company adheres, as do many others, to a policy of responding to customer complaints on social media. Generally this is good practice – it allows a quick response to consumer requests and shows an accessibility which would be notably absent if unavailable. But, in the wake of a flurry of questions about whether its products are halal certified and the alleged removal of the word “Easter” from chocolate eggs, an unwanted media storm ensued.
There was a robust response readily available to both enquiries, but the repetition of this to the scores of people who enquired on Facebook and Twitter generated significantly more media interest than the accusation itself would ever have done. Headlines on the story included “Cadbury’s forced to correct...” (London Evening Standard), “Cadbury's had to spend an entire day defending their ingredients...” (Daily Mirror), and, of course, “Cadbury’s in bizarre fake news row...” (Daily Mail). References to halal and chocolate eggs played second fiddle – the answers to the complaints were robust enough for the press, but this was still most definitely worth writing about.
On top of this, almost 10,000 comments appeared on a recent Cadbury’s Facebook post (advertising one of the aforementioned eggs), which turned the page into the latest platform for intense debate relating to anything but chocolate. Weeks later, Easter has come and gone and the eggs are off the shelves, but the argument still rages on Facebook and Twitter.
Cadbury’s UK made an attempt to adopt best practice in dealing with the initial enquiry, answering their critics in a clear and polite manner and sticking to a policy which, in the main, should improve relationships with customers. The resulting fallout in this instance goes to show that the best way to manage social media is not set in stone, and brands must be aware of how incidents like this can snowball, sometimes beyond the control of the companies at the centre of them.
A short and simple explanation of “How Twitter Works” may now be available for judges, but for consumer brands like Cadbury “bite size” is still limited to their chocolate – social media PR takes a lot more understanding.