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Why businesses should play nicely with the Twitterati


Don’t panic. Stephen Fry is not going to abandon Twitter. At least, not yet.

After a brief outburst last week, Fry – star of Jeeves and Wooster and quiz show Qi – has retracted his threat to leave the social media site, because of criticism from one of his followers.

Fry tweeted yesterday:

“Arrived in LA feeling very foolish. Wasn’t the fault of the fellow who called me ‘boring’, BTW. A mood thing. Sunshine will help. So sorry.”

Fry stunned his 900,000 followers when he suggested he might leave the site last week. “Think I may have to give up on Twitter. Too much aggression and unkindness around,” he said at the time.

Fry’s comments came after one user stated that he found the celebrity’s tweets “a bit… boring.”

This episode highlights one of the unexpected downsides to the social media service. While the site has been praised for its ability to allow businesses and celebrities to connect with the general populace, there is a negative side – namely that anyone can, and will, be a critic.

Many celebrities and businesses have been caught out by the immediacy of Twitter. Account holders can not only talk directly to a company or celebrity – using the direct message feature (DM) – but also broadcast their sentiments to (potentially) over 53 million daily visitors. The ‘@’ feature gives users the chance to immediately post their thoughts to an intended recipient and their own collection of followers.

Some celebrities and businesses are unprepared for this undiluted contact with the outside world. Indeed, Stephen Fry isn’t the only celebrity to have contemplated fleeing from direct contact with the general populace. Pop singer Little Boots recently returned to the Twitter fold after a three-month absence following a string of abusive ‘@’ messages.

Twitter is a two-way street

Social media users need to be aware that Twitter offers a dialogue. Indeed, while many businesses and celebrities have been profiting from the direct contact with their targeted audience, many seem oblivious to the fact the service is a two-way street.

Recent events have demonstrated the danger of stirring the collective anger of the Twitterati. The controversial Jan Moir article on the death of the Boyzone singer Steven Gately resulted in thousands of tweets condemning the Daily Mail columnist. Many of these updates – including those from celebrity tweeters – urged fellow users to complain to the Press Complaints Commission. The article eventually received over 22,000 individual submissions.

Companies have also seen their good names fouled through the service. Habitat, Skittles, and more recently Pepsi have all faced a very public stoning at the hands of aggrieved Twitter users.

Beware the changing trends

The ROI from Twitter can be substantial and countless celebrities and businesses have used the service to promote their merchandise and brand. However, businesses need to be aware of the potential pitfalls.

Criticism on Twitter is contagious. Many users do not seem to understand that Twitter is not like email. You cannot ignore a nasty or critical tweet and hope it goes away. This micro-blogging service requires micro-managing.

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