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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 #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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