Why is it so hard for a major company - in this case, one of Australia's biggest banks - to lighten up and have a bit of fun?
Why do large organisations find it so difficult to express their human side?
In today's social media age, this is emerging as a huge issue - the disconnect between big companies and their customers. It happens across so many fronts, but every now and then, something jumps out and screams:
"Why don't these companies get it?"
A couple of weeks ago it was Macquarie Bank.
Today it was Westpac's turn.
It started innocently enough when this quirky 25-character message appeared on the bank's official Twitter account:
"Oh, so very over it today".
It quickly struck a chord on Twitter.
@brisbanetimes was quick off the mark and alerted Westpac's media relations team to ensure everything was alright at the bank.
"Within two minutes of making that phone call at 4.26 pm, the Tweet was pulled from the site, but not before thousands saw it."
And not before a few quick tweeps managed to get a screen grab of the 'offending' tweet (below).
I don't know about you but the tweet in question represents all that is great about Twitter - it's a medium through which big companies can show their human side.
Sure, there was the odd facetious tweet or two in reply (hey, they're a bank, what do you expect?), but by and large tweeps thought the remark was cool and were genuinely supportive of the Westpac tweeter responsible. In fact, the response from the public was overwhelmingly...
Why? Because the tweet was real. Authentic. Quirky. Out of left field. So...unexpected (from a bank, anyway).
Check some of these responses:
This story was quickly picked up by sections of the mainstream media, and several tweets commenting on the kerfuffle were from journalists. I fully expect this to be in The Age tomorrow!
Follow the tweet stream here. I've been watching this unfold in real time as I write this post. Fascinating stuff!
Of course we're not talking a major issue here by any means but sometimes it's the small things - that get blown up into bigger things (thanks to social media) - that reveal a brand's true colours.
Now, here's a company that could use some positive word-of-mouth buzz. (For a quick recap, click here and here). Alas, Westpac has gone out of its way to demonstrate yet again it's a company that's hopelessly out of touch. It has some real PR challenges ahead as the bank clearly doesn't understand how strategic communication works in today's hyper-connected environment.
Readers of this blog will probably know the ol' PR Warrior has a soft spot for the Cluetrain Manifesto. Indeed, I might even bang on a little about this seminal work, first published in 1999. Okay, maybe a lot :)
But check out these two Cluetrain's 95 theses and you'll understand why it's as relevant today as ever before (and that the message clearly is not getting through to the corporate sector):
#21: Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
#84: We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?
These words were penned over 10 years ago and yet they could have been written in response to today's Westpac Twitter ordeal.
P.S. Could somebody please send some copies of Cluetrain to Westpac's C-suite and media department. Thanks.
Roughly four hours later, Westpac responded thus:As Mumbrella comments:
One of the biggest perils of updating Twitter for corporate accounts is that those who take part often have access to several profiles including, usually, their own personal one.
Some insightful comments below are worth reading (thanks guys for your input into the conversation).
Good on Westpac for responding reasonably quickly with a light-hearted tweet, although I can't help feel a lot of effort probably went into getting the tone of the above tweet right :)
Mistake or not (and let's face it, it really wasn't a big deal), the bank's knee-jerk action in deleting the tweet in the first place brought unnecessary 'heat' on the company and I maintain is consistent with a brand that is, like many large organisations, struggling to adapt to the new media age.
All this reminds me of something I heard several industry observers make mention of at a conference last year, and that was the public will give big companies something like 18 months' grace to get into social media, make mistakes and earn their stripes etc. But, if they keep cocking it up, consumers won't be as forgiving. It was an interesting observation then, and it remains quite a relevant point today, some six months later.
Interesting times ahead!