How not to use social media for marketing

Here’s a hilarious example of how a company’s social media campaign can be derailed by the very medium they tried to exploit. It’s a warning and a useful lesson.

Some bright spark in the marketing department at Qantas, at a time when the airline was already beset with problems, decided to use Twitter to invite people to suggest ideas for their ‘dream luxury in-flight experience’. Oh dear. The tweets started coming in saying things like ‘Getting from A to B without plane being grounded or an engine catching fire’.

You can read the full story here.

It sometimes seems that companies display awesome credulity when told by self-appointed marketing experts that they need to be doing something or they’ll fall behind. Especially when there’s some truth in what the experts say. The latest marketing trend is of course to use social media – unless that’s already been superseded by something else. Before that the happening word was SEO and no marketing director could avoid using it in important meetings. And before that, I seem to remember, the buzz was around the importance of having your own content. All these things are still important, or can be, depending on your brand and your circumstances. It’s all a question of using these things intelligently.

Which brings us back to Qantas. When you’re failing to get the basics right, you don’t start chattering about luxury. That’s pretty basic. A prerequisite of being a luxury brand is doing whatever you do very well indeed. Seems Qantas forgot this in their urge to be all bright and clever and contemporary on Twitter. ‘Hey, why don’t we do some crowd sourcing on how we can add some cool sounding gimmicks to our first class service?’ It would save them thinking up the ideas themselves, show responsiveness to their customers, and generally give the person tasked with tweeting for Qantas something to do.

Except what it showed is that you can’t control social media, unlike old-fashioned ‘push’ technology. People on Twitter are pretty sarcastic. It’s dangerous territory. It’s especially dangerous territory for any company failing to get the basics right. Even the very act of sounding chirpy on Twitter when you keep messing up people’s travel plans is a mistake.

Perhaps it comes back to understanding tone of voice (and customer psychology). There are certain ways of talking, and writing, that are appropriate at different times and for different brands in particular circumstances. Speak in a totally inappropriate way and people will react with disdain or contempt or just not believe you.

Note that bouncy ‘Be creative!’ in the original Qantas tweet. Everything’s great here in social media land, it seems to say. Never mind the people stuck on the tarmac in Bangkok.

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