Feeding frenzy on Twitter

Perceived wisdom is that Twitter offers companies exciting new ways to reach out to their customers and build authentic relationships with them. Quite right too – I follow many of my favourite brands on Twitter and certainly feel closer to some of them as a result.

One particular area that attracts a lot of attention is Customer Services. Some companies have received very good press through the extension of their customer services offering onto Twitter, and off the top of my head I can think of a few that seem to do this very well: @virginmedia @easyJetCare @starbucks @SouthwestAir for starters.

The company I work for has been experimenting in this area and has had some very positive reactions to real time monitoring and intervention when one of our customers has cried out for help on Twitter.

The recent Vodafone ‘twincident’ was an interesting lesson to all of us exploring the value of using  Twitter in this way. However, on that occasion it appears to represent poor judgement and a non-malicious error by one individual. What happened to a friend of mine last week is very different and just as scary. His company name has been changed to Feeding Frenzy to protect confidentiality.

He noticed a tweet from a customer who was clearly finding the experience of using his company’s core product frustrating. He contacted his customer services team who rolled into action in the hope of helping the guy out and potentially turning a poor first time experience into a much more positive one.

They quickly identified the customer from his profile information on Twitter and put in a call to him to see if there was anything they could do to help. Within seconds of making the call, this was his reaction, live on Twitter:

“Extraordinary. Feeding Frenzy just called me on my mobile, after I tweeted earlier about how fucking hard it was..unbelievable.. Still in shock” 4:57pm

“Not kidding, the bloke says “We see you’re having issues with Feeding Frenzy and mentioned on Twitter” fuck that. Madness madness madness” 4:58pm

“yeah, now I’m over the shock I feel all terroristy, like fuck them.” 5:09pm

What followed resembled a pride of lions feeding on a freshly butchered zebra. A small number of his followers started biting chunks out of the company at the suggestion that the comments were hilarious and they should try and get them trending.

Eight individuals with a combined total of 3,700 followers created sufficient noise to represent over 20,000 ‘negative reads’ within an hour. The story did not trend because it never spread beyond the small group.

I guess Feeding Frenzy were lucky.

I was quite taken aback by this tale. I could not understand how this kind of reaction could have resulted from a genuine attempt to help someone out.

And then it twigged. Feeding Frenzy had intruded on his personal space when they looked up his phone number and rang him. And like a lion feeding on a zebra’s carcass, he reacted violently when an intruder tried to get in on his feast.

So here is my question. Was this an isolated incident representing wholly untypical behaviour which we can all afford to dismiss, or should the lesson from this tale be that Customer Service interventions based on Twitter comments should be restricted to offers of support via direct interaction only on Twitter?

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “Feeding frenzy on Twitter

  1. Really interesting post Jon. Pretty amazing the level of backlash when they were just trying to help. But, I have to say, being a very private person myself, I would not have appreciated the invasion of my privacy by phone. I’d never have publicly criticized them for it, but I wouldn’t have liked it. To me, it would feel a little bit stalkerish.

    Now, I know there are many who would have loved that approach. But, there are plenty that wouldn’t.

    On saying that though, it’s still a pretty strong reaction and not really fare to openly slate the company – especially the incredible pyramid effect that twitter can have.


  2. Interesting. I guess my view would be that if he felt able to name the company in association with himself then he should expect a call. I would. To then feel that they had intruded on his personal space…..I don’t buy it.

    If I was in a pub and heard someone talking about a product or service that they had bought from my company that had gone wrong, If I went across and said, “excuse me I couldn’t help over hearing that you were talking about x. I work for them, here is my card give me a call and we will see what we can to sort it out” would that be seen as intruding? I think not.

    I’d suggest that some of this is connected with ignorance of social media, that sense that I can say things without impunity. We see it a lot in my world with staff saying things and then wondering why the hell they are in trouble.

    You want to comment without reaction? Stay anonymous. That’s my motto! 🙂

  3. @Abi You’re right – before I heard about this I don’t think it would have occured to me that ringing someone would be an issue. I’m sure the safe approach is to confine initial contact to Twitter and take it from there. Thx for comments!

    @HRD Not sure about your analogy – I reckon plenty of pub fights have kicked off when someone has butted in to a conversation uninvited… I completely agree with you on ignorance of social media. No one has a right to be critical in public with impunity – unless of course you are completely anonymous 😉 I don’t allow anonymous comments on our intranet. Actually – correction – I allow anonymous comments but not anonymous submission of comments. Is that bad?

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