Get online brand management right, or risk trouble

I was a little surprised this morning to receive a call from a firm that I've been dealing with in a personal capacity, who I'd upset with a Tweet.

I was a little surprised this morning to receive a call from a firm that I've been dealing with in a personal capacity, who I'd upset with a Tweet.

This company caused me problems last month after one of their employees went on holiday and important documents were not sent to me in their absence.

Last week a further minor screw up proved the last straw and I took to Twitter with a brief, innocuous grumble, exactly the sort of thing that millions do every day.

But someone within the company spotted this and decided that a minor criticism was too much.

Although my Tweet contained nothing that you wouldn't repeat in front of the children, someone within the company was assigned to call me and express their concerns. In the course of the conversation, I was told the company felt that being called out in a public forum was close to libel.

Now, there's reputation management and then there's crossing the line; the ground rules around what constitutes libel on Twitter have yet to really be tested, but I would like to think that expressing displeasure with a service received falls in the realm of fair comment, which is allowable in English libel law.

But those following the social networking sphere will be well aware of the case of Paul Chambers, whose light-hearted tweet about closures at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster landed him in serious trouble after a dramatic over-reaction.

And given that the company in question - which I won't identify here as a courtesy to them - is now dealing with my concerns, I am disinclined to argue the point with someone who might decide they want to pay for a lawyer.

But I hope they will now have woken up to the dangers of not putting an effective strategy in place for dealing with criticism in a public forum. A tendency to start throwing legal terminology at customers is good for nobody. If you are going to try to manage your brand online, you need to be fully aware of what you are doing.

Two tech firms I've had, er, the pleasure of doing personal business with are BT and Virgin Media, and I have to say these firms have got their online brand management exactly right.

They don't sweat the little jibes, but when they spot an unhappy customer they are quickly on scene, trying to make amends.

In fact, as regular readers of Network Noise will be aware, I actually found Virgin's Twitter team far more useful than I found their customer support phoneline.

More businesses would do well to follow their example and learn when to take criticism and how to engage in response.

And I hope this cautionary tale will remind us all that until more businesses wake up to how Twitter is used, we as customers should all be more careful over what actions we take in the online world.

Logo courtesy of Twitter

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