Twitter: Power of the People. Firefly reflects on lessons learnt for public relations people and agencies

Twitter: Power of the People. Firefly reflects on lessons learnt for public relations people and agencies

Fiona Hughes

Fiona Hughes

This week has seen some big PR campaigns kick off; marking the real start of 2012, in terms of planned PR activity. Perhaps most noticeably, Tropicana’s “Brighter Mornings" campaign, that saw a good tranche of print coverage (plus over 600,000 video views to-date and Twitter and Facebook debate a-plenty). There’s also been evidence of garnering social media in a planned fashion throughout the week, for power-brands Snickers and Lynx, amongst others.

But sometimes the most powerful PR stories are the ones that, to some extent, are unfortunately out of the PR person or team’s control.  The Twitter storm that erupted on Tuesday afternoon over LA Fitness was a perfect example of a story that seemed to suddenly become the responsibility of the public relations or social media team.

Starting off as a reader letter in The Guardian, the Twitterati picked up on the story when a member of the public contacted the LA Fitness UK Twitter feed, asking for them to comment on the case.

For anyone who missed the Twitter storm around this case, at the centre of it was a married couple from Billericay who were trying to cancel their LA Fitness contract after six years of membership. Their case was compelling for a combination of reasons: the need for cancellation was due to pregnancy, redundancy and a home move 12 miles away; and yet they were being held to a two-year notice period.  The Guardian took over negotiation on the couple’s behalf, but even after thorough investigation of rights, was only able to negotiate the required notice period down to six months (incidentally, the length of many board director notice periods, to put this in context).

A Guardian reader tweeted @LAFitnessTips on Tuesday afternoon, asking for them to comment on the story. In my view, it seemed to be the coldly corporate @LAFitnessTips tweet, which was – to paraphrase – “we do not comment on individual cases”, that started the thunderstorm.  (Incidentally, this seemed entirely incongruous in light of the “We'll get there together – in the gym, in life and online” that is LAFitness’ 140-character Twitter biog.  What a lovely brand personality... that was not in this case, practiced).  Incidentally, the offending tweet has since been removed, in a careful erase of social media history, to be replaced with a series of well-messaged, carefully-worded tweets.

The power of the Twitterari, which in this case included Caitlin Moran and her 180,000+ followers, soon turned the case around.  The same day, LA Fitness withdrew all charges and all contractual obligations on the couple.  This is the power of social media in practice.  But sadly, the way in which this was done left the brand rather more workout-weary than post-exercise exhilarated.

Looking forward, my advice to LA Fitness is that to succeed in the social space, the customer services team must be properly integrated with other core channels, and the front line (and boy, must it have felt that way on Tuesday!) must have the correct support and training for successful issues management.

So, McDonalds, LA Fitness, even Tom Watson’s intern have all been the source of Twitter backlash this week. What’s next and what will we continue to learn along the way?

Share this story:

Read more from the blog

Blog

A changing landscape: Building reputations amid shrinking media pools 

Amid shrinking media pools, PR professionals need to begin thinking broader and deeper than simply media relations. ...Read more

Claire Walker
Claire Walker
Blog

Step forward with year-round inclusive PR campaigns this Pride Month

How can organisations do better this Pride Month and beyond? We discuss the dos and don'ts for inclusive PR campaigns. ...Read more

Megan Hogg
Megan Hogg
Tech News

Summer is here, and so are our top tech news stories of the month

Whilst June flew by in a flash of picnics in the park, it didn’t fall short on delivering yet more weird and wonderful tech news stories. ...Read more

Georgia Dallas
Georgia Dallas

Add a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information