Vodafone, Twitter and the challenges of managing your brand in social media

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It’s been an interesting afternoon for Vodafone. Their VodafoneUK Twitter account has attracted a lot of attention after one Tweet in particular stood out from their usual customer service conversations online. In between the Tweets resolving network coverage and other queries one stood out. You can read about what was actually said elsewhere.

But, in addition to some rather questionable grammar, the message was offensive and not appropriate for a brand’s Twitter stream at all. It was clearly the work of either a hack, a case of very bad judgement, a disgruntled employee or an inappropriate sharing of passwords.

The official response from Vodafone (as you can see from almost every message they have sent since on Twitter) is that it was a breach of rules by an internal member of staff and that they are dealing with it internally. This is the kind of PR that any company doesn’t want, and as it was done through Twitter it will no doubt be held up by some as one of the downsides of social media and of engaging with customers online in this way.

Putting aside any short-term issues and negative publicity, there are a couple of things we can learn from what happened to Vodafone today. First in how you should manage your use of social media as a brand, and second in how you should respond when things go very wrong.

Managing your brand in social media

We’ve posted before about how to write your firm’s social media policy and, perhaps more importantly, what to do once your firm’s social media policy is written. The basic principal is that it is the quality of your staff and the relationships they make with customers that will make all the difference. Not the technology you use or any technological solutions you put in place. The general principal is that if you trust your staff to represent your brand in traditional media, then you should be able to trust them in social media.

Of course, Vodafone may not today be able to empathise with this and there are some differences. Notably that anybody with access to a Twitter account will be able to say something that is immediately and directly communicated to customers. This is a huge responsibility and one that people should not take lightly. But it is a responsibility that brands should give to their staff and one that is most important when building your brand online and in social media. Whilst there are many agencies out there who can help to manage your brand online for you, with the appropriate training and support (which may need to come from a specialist social media agency) the best person to represent your brand online are your own employees.

The key things here are:

  1. Have a culture where social media is acceptable. Encourage your staff to use social media so that they become comfortable with it and that is becomes part of your culture. This is a big shift for many organisations and one they are often nervous of.
  2. Have ongoing social media training across the business. Things change and they change quickly in social media. A firm that wants to position itself best online needs a regular and ongoing set of training and ideas and knowledge share. Try things out and share what works and what doesn’t for your brand.
  3. Trust people but have a very clear policy in place. You should trust people to interact with your customers online but be aware of what they are doing. It is not one-to-one communications, nor is it always one-to-many. You are talking to one person but in a very public environment. Recognise this and have policies and processes in place for this new way of communicating. But make these policies simple and clear to understand.

And whatever happens you need to be aware of the risks and have processes for dealing with them. Social media is growing and changing rapidly and as such can be a very forgiving place if you approach things in the right way. Everybody is experimenting and will often forgive you if things go wrong and you handle them in the right way. For me this is what Vodafone got right.

What we can learn from Vodafone’s response

When things go wrong the way to respond to it can be simple. Vodafone did two things that all brands can learn from. Whilst there will be discussions, debate and probably some negativity about what was said this afternoon for sometime, fundamentally, Vodafone should not suffer too much damage, because:

  1. They responded quickly and said what was happening. In social media, people can spread messages quickly. Vodafone also responded quickly and said exactly what happened and was happening. It wasn’t a hack but an internal employee and that person was being dealt with.
  2. They responded in the same place that people are talking about them. Vodafone responded to its Twitter followers on Twitter, using the VodafoneUK account. The key to crisis management in social media is to respond where people complain. Otherwise you risk alienating them and losing your role in the story.

So lots that we can learn and lots that they got right. But no doubt a challenging day for Vodafone today.

Some more reading

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Original Post: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2010/02/vodafone-twitter-and-the-challenges-of-managing-your-brand-in-social-media/