The social media tools of today allow for a level of communication more open, honest and intriguing than ever before seen. While this is all good news, there is still undoubtedly a dark side to networking online. Social networking is still a phenomenon that needs to be explored with caution, particularly micro blogging sites such as Twitter. With its protected status updates and ability to limit people seeing your personal information, Facebook is almost a safe haven in comparison.
Twitter’s set-up means that, as a code of basic practice, anything you share online can be seen (and repeated) by anyone in the world, meaning that sometimes conversations that you initiate suddenly spin out of your control.
What is a Twitter Storm?
A thoughtless tweet or a careless remark, particularly when made by celebrities, is usually the cause of a Twitter storm. Of course, it is impossible to predict what the reaction to personal thoughts and comments may be, but there have been instances of Twitter foolishness from brands in recent years that could easily have been avoided.
UK furniture retailer Habitat got into hot water in 2009 by using hashtags in its tweets that had nothing to do with its business in order to sell promotional gift cards. Such activity, aptly described by many irate fans at the time as ‘spammy’, is sure to instigate the rage of the Twitter community.
Sometimes though, an embarrassing Twitter episode is something that falls out of your control. McDonald’s ran a Twitter campaign early in 2012 asking consumers to share their favourite memories of eating at the chain by using the hashtag #McDStories. The implementation of a hashtag potentially sends your tweets out further than the immediate area of your comfy couch, and this particular move meant that the tag could be exploited by consumers who happened to have a bad story involving the brand.
When people began tweeting about how they once chipped a tooth on a McDonald’s burger or how they got food poisoning from the chicken nuggets, the campaign was well and truly out of the brand’s hands – all the people at McDonald’s could do was sit, watch and wait for the storm to be over.
How to Avoid a Twitter Storm
In the example of McDonald’s above, perhaps a simple rethinking of the core hashtag would have prevented the problem. Something less open than #McDStories, #ThanksMcDonalds for example, may have led consumers to do exactly what the brand wanted – share positive stories and create strong sentiment for McDonald’s online. There are a few other ways you may be able to protect yourself from creating your own Twitter storm when tweeting:
- Think twice – one of the most obvious ways to avoid antagonizing people online is to think carefully about what you tweet. Write out all of your tweets first before you post them, then read them back out loud and try to imagine yourself coming across them for the first time. Is there anything inflammatory in there? Have you expressed yourself clearly? Should you reword the tweet?
- Run or fight – once you have posted a tweet that evokes an emotional reader reaction, you can either defend it or retreat from it. Sticking up for your personal opinions, even though they may be controversial, may not win you friends online but it should at least get you the respect of your Twitter peers. On the other hand, if someone is going over the top in their replies to you and is causing you severe stress, well, that’s what the ‘block’ button is for.
- Apologize – if you think you have tweeted something that is offensive to others and you have changed your mind about the particular topic, saying a simple ‘sorry’ can be an efficient (though sadly underused) way to quell a tweet storm. Everybody makes mistakes, and most people online are honest and easy-going enough to recognize that.
- Learn from it – whatever happens with your tweets, make sure you learn your lesson. If you say something offensive and are chastised online for it, take steps to improve the quality of your tweets in the future, without alienating your existing followers.
The laws of Twitter and other social networks can be a harsh mistress, but by following these guidelines you should be able to prevent yourself from getting embroiled in any unfortunate Twitter nightmares.