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Social Media Fail #1: Cable Service with Time Warning

Patrick Stewart despairs

Oh no, it’s all gone Pete Tong

And so, finally, we reach my favorite Social Media Fail of 2012.  And though it got quite a bit of coverage in September, there’s a pretty good chance that not many will have heard of it.  But also a fair chance that many of you will empathize.

When was the last time you moved house?

For me it was about 4 years ago, and in my case it was actually moving from one continent to another, but whether it’s halfway around the world or only down the street, moving house is often considered to be second only to the death of a spouse or a child in terms of the levels of stress it is capable of inducing.

And of course it is only when you have sold your old house and bought your new one that the challenges really begin.  Finding someone to help you move, getting all the endless paperwork completed, finding new suppliers, comparing prices (not just the 6 month prices designed to hook you, but the long term prices where they really make their money).

Time Warner CableIt’s a seemingly endless round of searches and phone calls. Fortunately, since you’re a ‘potential new customer’ you can usually get straight through to a real person, a seemingly unremarkable fact at the time but one you will remember wistfully when you’ve been a customer for a while and you’re being herded through the autoprompts to the “Your business is important to us” holding area with the rest of the cattle.

Then finally, you’re into your new house, the power, gas, taxes and all the other annoying crap have been turned on or put in your name, and only one key task remains: the visit from the cable company to set up your cable TV, internet connection and (for those blissfully wedded to last century) your landline phone.

Most of us have been in the position of waiting, hour after hour, to see whether on the appointed day the guy or gal with all the cables, boxes and associated gizmos arrives on time, or even at all.

Patrick Stewart's cry in the wilderness

Patrick Stewart’s cry in the wilderness – an emotion
not uncommon among cable subscribers

In September this year, new New York resident Patrick Stewart set up an appointment with Time Warner Cable to come and install his links to the outside world.

The experience did not go well, causing him to tweet “All I wanted to do was set up a new account with @TWCable_NYC, but 36hrs later I’ve lost the will to live.”

Patrick Stewart's RejectionTo their credit, Time Warner responded promptly, tweeting to find out “How can we assist you?”, but Stewart clearly thought, quite rightly when all’s said and done, that he had a right to expect decent service from those who had been supposed to provide it in the first place., and that this offer of help on social media was too little too late.

Again, Time Warner’s Twitter team were professional and tweeted back “I apologize for the frustration.  If you change your mind we are here.”

Sir Patrick Stewart

Sir Patrick Stewart

This exchange happened on September 13, and the conversation could have ended there.  But overnight, I’m guessing someone in Time Warner’s Social Media team noticed the little blue check mark next to the name ‘Patrick Stewart’.

For those of you not familiar, the blue check indicates a ‘Verified’ account, meaning that twitter users can be certain that the person they are following is the genuine article and not a copycat.  People whose accounts are ‘Verified’ are movie stars, sports personalities, senior politicians, and so on.

So, when someone at time Warner noticed the little check mark it’s probably only then that the penny dropped and the sound that the penny made went something like “Oh, it’s Jean Luc Picard, that might not be a good thing!”.

Another dead giveaway might have been the fact that @SirPatStew had roughly 60,000 followers despite only having been on Twitter for a few months.  And another still might have been that his tweet was being retweeted hundreds of times an hour.  But, OK, they missed it, so let’s move on.

TWC - Ingratiation is the key to success

TWC – Ingratiation is the key to success

And move on was exactly what they should have done.  They’d dropped the ball on the install, but responded professionally on Social Media, so leave it at that.

But no.  They decided to try and cozy up to him, tweeting at him the following day using a couple of ingratiating Star Trek references to illustrate how much they loved him.  I can almost imagine half a dozen of them gathered round the screen, composing their masterpiece:  “Oh, dude, I got it, tell him we’re trekkers! Is it trekkers or trekkies?  Oh, what the hell, say trekkers.”  “What’s that catchphrase of his?  Oh yeah – ‘make it so’!  Tell him we’ll ‘make it so’ “.

To my absolute delight, Stewart was having none of it and sent back the equivalent of Monty Python’s ‘Fish Slapping Dance’, which basically stopped the conversation in its tracks.Patrick Stewart's dismisses TWC

Once again, that could have been the end of it, but alas for Time Warner, the pummeling gathered pace.

The original tweet had now received getting on for 2000 retweets, and practically everybody who retweeted or replied seemed to be agreeing that Time Warner installs were as organized as a tossed salad.  And that wasn’t the worst, not by a long shot.

LeVar Burton tweetLeVar Burton (Picard’s colleague Georgi La Forge from Star Trek TNG), replying to a tweet from the New York Observer writer Steve Huff said simply “Been there!”.  Huff’s tweet referenced an article on tech site Betabeat (for whom he also writes) chronicling the previous day’s exchange.

The Betabeat article was posted to reddit, where redditors agreed with Stewart’s decision in no uncertain terms.

Shatner's views on Time WarnerWilliam Shatner replied to Stewart’s first tweet, initially just saying that he agreed, but then going on to amplify his view in a separate tweet informing everyone that he’d been waiting for Time Warner LA to re-add Digital Talk Radio for nearly a month, and describing them as “Terrible”.

George Takei

George Takei

By this time the story was being featured prominently in the mainstream media around the world. However, after a couple of weeks, just as Time Warner might have though it was safe to come out of the bathroom, former original Star Trek cast member turned Social Media darling George Takei chimed in, saying “It doesn’t get much better than this” and sharing the entire story with his half million Twitter followers (leading to another 2500 retweets), and his legion of Facebook fans (over 3 million of them), resulting in nearly 25,000 likes, 5,000 shares and well over 1,000 comments, very few of them with anything positive to say about Time Warner.

Stewart meanwhile was maintaining a dignified silence while the interwebs were amusing themselves with poking fun at Time Warner.  In fact, his only related tweet during the entire time period was to @dish, to thank them for providing the “prompt and professional service” that he had originally hoped to get from TWC.

Patrick Stewart's tweet to DishThough it appears he couldn’t resist one final, priceless little swipe at Time Warner Cable, which I think ties the story up quite nicely – the perfect place to end.

Thanks for reading.  I’ve enjoyed writing these Top 10 Fails, particularly reseaching them, and hope you’ve found something that has either given you food for thought, or at least made you smile.

May I wish you a very Happy New Year.

 

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Social Media Fail #6: The Butt of the Joke

Britain's Got Talent logo

BGT – 2013 will be the show’s 7th season

Susan Boyle is pretty well known, not just in Britain but in America as well.  Since April 2009 when she debuted on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Miserables, she has gone on to produce several hit albums and has amassed a fortune approaching $50m.

Her debut album, also also called ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ and released in 2009 is Britain’s best-selling album of all time.  It was also nominated for a Grammy, as indeed was her 2010 follow-up album, ‘The Gift’.

Her success on BGT also received attention due to the marked and clearly visible difference in public reaction between Boyle’s audition when she first appeared on stage and that at the audition of Paul Potts the previous year.  Potts was a relatively plain looking middle-aged man, Boyle a relatively plain looking middle-aged woman.  But the audience were significantly more hostile towards Boyle before she even sang a note than they were to Paul Potts.

Susan Boyle Standing Ovation

Standing Ovation, Susan Boyle’s 4th Album, the subject of an unfortunate party invitation

However, Boyle has now reached a level of personal success where she can afford laugh at those things that a few years ago might have been desperately hurtful…..such as the manner in which her PR Team chose to promote her new 2012 album on Twitter.  Entitled ‘Standing Ovation:  The Greatest Songs from the Stage’ the album was released November 13 and, as part of the pre-release promotion activity, a Q&A session and “album listening party” was planned.  This was, quite naturally, promoted to her thousands of followers on Twitter.

Unfortunately, the hashtag chosen for the event was capable of being misread, and “Susan Album Party” became #susanalbumparty.  Despite her twitter team hastily changing the hashtag to #SusanBoyleAlbumParty, the damage had been done, the twitterverse exploded with laughter and #susanalbumparty trended without delay.

It has been speculated that this was a deliberate ploy from Ms Boyle’s marketing team, but the fact that they did not respond to questions and changed it so quickly leads me to believe that it was a snafu.  However, there can be little doubt that the tweet reached many people that it ordinarily would not have reached, including me.

In the meantime, Ms. Boyle probably laughed all the way to the bank, particularly in view of the fact that, just days after the hashtag gaffe, it was announced that Fox Searchlight have bought the rights to her story and plan a biopic in 2013.

WonderlandMag tweetLesson:  Our language has become increasingly mangled by urban sayings, littered with acronyms and abbreviations to allow it to conform with format requirements.  Content managers and marketers need to read and re-read anything that does not use proper punctuation to make sure they’re not setting themselves up for 15 minutes of infamy.  With hashtags, use upper case characters to clarify meaning if needed.  And when someone tells you that punctuation does not matter, explain to them how in the modern world it matters more than ever before.

 

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Social Media Fail #9: O’er the Ramparts We Watched

reddit- ogoThere was a time, not so long ago, when I didn’t get Reddit at all.  It looked weird.  What the hell was the / symbol for?  Why did the order of stuff keep changing?  It was like looking at a DOS directory structure.  In short, it’s fair to say I hated it.

Then, just over a year ago, I heard that Bear Grylls was doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything).  Now, I’ve always liked Bear Grylls so I dropped by to have a looksee, although not really hoping for too much.

I still didn’t understand how the hell it worked, but it turned out to be pretty funny, he put up with the pee comments in a good natured way and before I knew it I was really enjoying myself.

I’m still not a frequent user (maybe on a couple times a month), but now that I’ve figured out how to use it, it’s kinda addictive and when I do log on I spend much more time on than I expect.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, February 3, 2012 was not one of the days I was on Reddit.  But I started hearing what had happened within 24 hours and after a bit of research I found myself in the unusual position of knowing what had happened before the media story really broke.

On the day in question, a post titled “I’m Woody Harrelson, AMA” appeared on the iama subforum on Reddit, posted by a user called iamwoodyharrelson.  Reddit requires authentication for an AMA to confirm identity and, in this case, authentication was in the form of a tweet from the official feed of Harrelson’s soon to be released movie, ‘Rampart’, a film loosely based on the Rampart scandal of the mid 1990s..  OK, fair enough, so far so good.It's Woody

When the AMA started a few hours later there had already been a fair amount of traffic, but concerns started to emerge pretty much immediately.  Despite the premise of an AMA that redditors should be able to ‘Ask Me Anything’, Harrelson seemed curiously unwilling to answer questions directly, frequently drawing his new film ‘Rampart’ into the answer in some way or another.  The answers were also lacking in the personality that other AMAs have had.  In short, there was instantly the suspicion that Woody was parroting from a publicist’s talking points rather than being genuine.

Sure enough, redditors soon grew weary of this, and before long started to become actively hostile.  A succession of responses suggested that reddit was not the Leno show, or an informercial, and that people weren’t there just to listen to an advertisement.  One suggested it should have been an AMAAR (Ask me Anything about Rampart), another that it was the worst AMA in the history of the internet.AMAAR

But that was really only half the problem.  The rest of the problem surfaced in the shape of redditor AndyRooney, who posted a personal recollection of Harrelson crashing his high school prom after party at the Hilton in LA and having sex with a high school girl called Roseanne.Roseanne

Harrelson’s response was to say that it wasn’t true, and that posters should focus on the film.

This response, combined with his response to the AMAAR suggestion (that he considered his time valuable – the implication being that if he wasn’t talking about the movie then being here was a waste of time) were the two straws that broke the camel’s back and the insults, jokes and epithets came thick and fast.

quickmeme woody harrelsonBy the time I’d caught up with the action, the snowball had already started rolling.  On quickmeme, a page called ‘Scumbag Woody Harrelson’ started racking up submissions.  Many of the images provided suggestions as to how Woody could get the name of the film into seemingly unconnected questions.  A subreddit post showed an Urban Dictionary screenshot of a newly submitted definition:  ‘Rampart – to take a high school girl’s virginity and then not call her.’  Many also made reference to the urban dictionary definition of ‘Munson’ (a character from the Harrelson movie ‘Kingpin) as someone who, when at the pinnacle of success, loses everything by doing something really stupid.  On February 4 (Saturday), the New York Observer and Mediaite posted stories about the AMA.

All this was less than 24 hours after Woody’s abortive AMA.  While already bad enough, the PR who had originally had the crass idea of using Reddit to promote the film must have been hoping that if he/she kept a low profile then perhaps it would all blow over without too much damage.  And when Sunday came with no more real coverage, perhaps there was a sense that the crisis may have passed.  Alas….

On Monday morning, the Huffington Post and Forbes both carried the story.  These were swiftly followed by Perez Hilton (quelle surprise), Uproxx and the Daily Dot.  After that, it was all downhill.

Uploads of trailers for ‘Rampart’ started to get disliked on youtube, calls to boycott the movie came thick and fast, some of them supported by a nicely spoofed poster.Rampart poster spoof

When the movie was released, it pretty much tanked.  Whether it would have done better without the Reddit disaster is a matter for speculation, but what is fairly obvious is that it can’t have helped.  Redditors sitting in on the AMA would quite possibly be those who were predisposed to like Harrelson and could possibly have been relied upon to form part of the film’s target audience.

rampart

Rampart Box Office receipts in $m by week after theatrical release Feb 10. Source: IMDb

And, by the way, when I say tanked I’m talking tank in the sense of a Second World War Panzer VIII Maus tank.  Having researched fairly thoroughly I can’t find out what the budget was, but a film with Woody Harrelson, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube, Sigourney Weaver and other well known names must have cost a pretty penny.  The fact that at its height ‘Rampart’ got into only 106 screens (a big movie would be in over 1000), never got higher than 38th in the rankings and made a total of less than $1m at the box office (at time of writing, 9 months later, it has scraped together another half mil) would perhaps explain why Rampart’s producers would want to keep as quiet as possible about a budget that would have been in the $10-$15m range at very least.

So, what do we learn?  Woody Harrelson would, on the face of it, seem like a pretty good iama for Reddit.  Off the wall, some unusual opinions, some controversial movies – you’d think he’s a lock as one of the better AMA subjects.

Woody needs to take some degree of responsibility for the disaster that ensued.  Showing up at the AMA with little or no clue as to how it worked was clearly not a good idea.

The Truman ShowBut the lion’s share of the scorn must be heaped on the PR person who convinced Woody to do this without prepping him on the format, and indeed without understanding that talking directly to fans on Reddit is very different to talking indirectly to fans on Letterman.  Harrelson seems to have bumbled into the studio with a list of talking points that he attempted to shoehorn into almost every question.  Some of the answers were so bizarrely unconnected to the questions that one redditor was prompted to use this animated gif to express his confusion.

Clearly there’s a lesson to be learned here about knowing your audience, not taking their goodwill for granted, and remembering that oft used but nonetheless critical point that the first half of the term ‘Social Media’ is more important than the second half.

 

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When does ‘Taking Inspiration’ become ‘Taking Liberties’?

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber

There’s a very amusing and thought-provoking video on YouTube that questions how closely related the original compositions of Andrew Lloyd-Webber are to other pre-existing original compositions.

The author very wisely steers a wide course around making a direct accusation, merely presenting what he considers to be the similarities and leaving viewers to make up their own minds.

I’ve seen it several times before and it always makes me laugh, but I watched it again over the weekend and it was while I was mulling over the questions raised that I saw an Allstate ad on TV, and noticed a striking similarity between the payoff gag at the end and a similar one in a Hanes commercial from 2010, though in the Allstate ad it’s less well executed. It’s the kind of similarity that, while perhaps less evident at script stage, becomes glaringly obvious in the final execution.

And there are, of course, many other examples. An ad for the ‘Mail on Sunday’ national newspaper in the UK comes to mind, bearing as it does a striking resemblance to one for Argentine brewer ‘Quilmes’ that debuted in late 2011. On the other hand, the term ‘Battle of the Sexes’ is one in common parlance and, being for different products, in different market sectors and indeed different hemispheres, perhaps it is unsurprising that the similarities only came to light as a result of a YouTube search for “Battle of the Sexes ad”.

Of all the other ‘coincidences’ available however, perhaps none is as striking as the commercials for Renault and Nissan that broke during the middle of 2011. Nobody (seriously, NOBODY) can fail to notice the similarities between Nissan’s ‘Leaf’ spot through TBWA and Renault’s ZE through Publicis Conseil.

When the story first broke, there were reports of accusation and counter-accusation between the two agencies. Even more interesting was the fact that in 1999 the two automakers became strategic partners and took ownership stakes in each other. Clearly there would be some economies of scale from this, but marketing and sales were two areas that were apparently considered sacrosanct. So, who did the dirty deed?

Then the news broke that perhaps neither had a right to the creative high ground for their respective executions. If the Leaf and EZ spots seemed closely related, then the DNA trail was further extended to a speculative spot produced by some German film students the year before for Mutsubishi’s i-Miev which, while it seems to have had very little if any airtime, did garner several ad industry awards.

“How despicable that the ad was stolen from some German students” I thought. “I know they were pushing green technology but this was probably not the kind of recycling they had in mind.”

All went quiet in the industry press (hardly surprising – the marketing news publications always prefer to lick the hand that feeds them rather than bite it), and I had pretty much forgotten about it until recently, when I stumbled across this spot on YouTube; a Public Service Announcement from ‘Plug In America’, an advocacy group for electric powered vehicles. It was uploaded in the fall of 2010, which kinda predates the Mitsubishi execution. As if the whole scenario were not bizarre enough already, the PSA is executed in the well-trodden Mac vs PC style, which led one of the viewers on YouTube to comment “Get your own idea!”, with no concept of how ironic this would prove to be.

The album art for Talking Heads’ 1981 release ‘Stop Making Sense’ offered the opinion that there are a finite number of jokes in the universe. Maybe the same is true of advertising and musical creation too.

 

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When is the BBC not the BBC? When it’s BBC America.

As a British expat living in the USA, I feel a warm sense of family whenever I see or hear the term ‘British Broadcasting Corporation’.

"BBC logo"

Dear old Auntie Beeb, as she is known affectionately by us Brits.  Rather like that slightly embarrassing older relative who occasionally tries to shun her natural station in life in order to appear more hip, more with it, more modern.  Sometimes she gets it hopelessly wrong and when she does, she is genuinely cringeworthy.

But when she gets it right (and more often than not, she does) she is worth listening to.  Plays, chat shows, light entertainment, news, events, sports, unbiased (arguably) political discussion, original dramas…..the list goes on and on, and all immaculately produced (well, most of the time, given the limitations of budget).  And of course if you don’t like what’s on one BBC channel then maybe there’s something better on another – there are several.

Funded by the annual ‘License Fee’ in Britain (a fee of roughly $250 payable – by law – every year by every household in Britain that has a TV), Auntie is commercial free, has no sponsors to please, no favors to pay back and has only one overriding remit: to produce quality programming that has something for everyone.

As such, the Beeb has for generations been a bastion of high quality content across multiple genres.  OK, she loses her way every now and again, but she always finds her way back, and when she does she usually comes back stronger than ever.

I grew up watching the BBC.  Some of my very fondest memories are of BBC Children’s programs when I was young, watching Liverpool on ‘Match of the Day’ with my father, snorting with laughter at ‘Morecambe and Wise’ on Christmas evening as the entire family, replete after a giant turkey, collapsed onto sofas, armchairs and anything else with padding.

When you move to another country, it is those sentimental ties that are the hardest to sever and it was therefore with delight that I discovered BBC America.  That familiar logo, an icon as recognizable to me as the Chevy bow-tie or the yellow school bus are to Americans, instantly told at me that I had found a home away from home.

Over the last four years however, I have become increasingly aware that this foreign relative, despite the familiar family name, is a pale imitation of the original.  She is Danny de Vito’s Vincent to Schwarzenegger’s Julius, she is Odile rather than Odette.

I understand completely that some shows that run on the Beeb in Britain would not draw large audiences in the US.  British politics or current events are unlikely to resonate, for example.  But what I do wonder is why BBC America seems to be slanting so much of its programming towards the genuinely shallow end of the gene pool.

What do I mean by that?  I mean that, of all the quality programming produced monthly by the BBC in Britain, BBC America chooses to offer up, broadly speaking, the most vacuous.

For instance, on the day of writing, the BBC is devoting a third if its 24 hours of programming to…Gordon Ramsay.  I know its not a bad show.  Some parts in fact can be quite funny.  But 8 hours of cooking related programming (or 9 if you include an hour of Jamie Oliver’s American Road Trip)?  Seriously?

Then there’s period drama The Tudors, a show that BBC America chooses to promote as an exploration of how much shagging went on in the Royal Court of 16th century England.

There’s Doctor Who.  OK, I don’t mind Doctor Who but on Christmas Day, if I recall correctly, BBC America scheduled 24 hours straight of Doctor Who, presumably thinking that if people were slaving over the range for much of the day anyway that they wouldn’t want to watch Gordon and Jamie on TV, and that no other BBC show was sufficiently ‘festive’.

There’s Top Gear.  Nope, can’t fault that.  Excellent show.  On the other hand, even the best programming can become tired when repeated for the dozenth time.

"Graham Norton"

And finally, panel quiz shows.  But rather than using an existing show (such as the award winning and already popular Stephen Fry’s ‘Qi’ for instance), BBC America decided to go with a new panel show hosted by Graham Norton – a show incidentally that is not actually running on the BBC in Britain.  Presumably the reasoning for this choice is that his face is already known to BBC America viewers so, as if hour after hour of his chat show were not enough, we were recently introduced to his new panel game show ‘Would You Rather’.  To whet our appetites for this, the BBC America trailer tantalized us with such game questions as “Would you rather your daughter had no friends, or was as slut”.  Or (even better), “Would you rather watch your parents have sex every day for a year, or join in once to make it stop”.

I’m not making this up.

One could say that, in Britain, the BBC lives a relatively secure life, propped up by the annual windfall of the License Fee and insulated from harsh commercial realities.

Not so BBC America.  With no publicly funded nourishment upon which to rely, BBC America at some point in its infancy decided that the road to commercial success in the New World was paved with innuendo, titillation and repetition, and is pursuing its chosen path with dogged determination.

Once every couple of years, the BBC comes under pressure from one group or another.  “The License Fee is unfair and outdated” goes the argument.  “The BBC should have its financial security blanket removed and be forced out into the big, bad world with everyone else.”

Well, having now seen how the BBC fares in this big bad world, I have to disagree.  Once the genie is out of the bottle it could never be forced back, and the BBC in Britain would begin the slow tailspin towards mediocrity, forced as it is in the US to chase ratings and pander to the desires of those who require nothing from their programming other than cheap thrills, vulgarity and empty celebrity.

A tragic prospect to be sure, and one that I have little doubt is probably far closer to being realized than at any time in the past.

As for my home away from home, the Atlantic seems a lot bigger than it did fours years ago.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Entertainment, Media

 

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