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Social media successes and failures



What can entrepreneurs learn about social media from the experiences of other organisations?

3 min read

In 2013 British Gas held a Twitter Q&A session after announcing a hefty 9.2% rise in customer bills.

Then customer services director Bert Pijls was hit with a barrage of tweets, with one disgruntled customer asking ‘Which items of furniture do you think people should burn first this winter?’ British Gas was defiant, stating it had been ‘open and transparent’ with customers, but the exchange led to a stream of negative publicity.

Paypal suffered damage to its reputation a year later after director of strategy Rakesh ‘Rocky’ Agrawal squared up to colleagues on Twitter. Agrawal sent a series of late night tweets urging “useless” colleagues to be fired.

 “Social media, because of its sheer size and nature, in that followers can respond quickly, makes it hard to manage brand reputation,” says Drew Benvie, managing director of communications agency Battenhall. “You can organise your social media content in advance, looking at the best channels to get your message across, but you are never fully in control when engaging with the public.

“It’s a great way to understand first hand how people feel about key issues and events that are going on right now”
Steven Hewlett-Light, Head of Digital Content and Channels

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Bakery chain Greggs has risen to the occasion. A hack on Google meant that whenever users clicked on the Greggs logo they were met with the unappetising phrase - ‘Providing s*** to scum for 70 years’.

Greggs’ social media team used the hashtag FixGreggs to ask Google to rectify the situation and win a plate of doughnuts. Google’s equally alert team said it was a deal if they could have a sausage roll as well.

“Southern Rail recently organised a Twitter hashtag urging its drivers not to strike, but their long-suffering customers supported the drivers and called on Southern to give them a proper service. Their customers turned on them.”

Drew says speed and “being human” is the best way to respond when things head south. “If you don’t respond quickly, the general public will do it for you! You need to have open and engaged dialogue,” he says. 

And what about Private Banking? “We started with the question, ‘Why does a Private Bank use Social Media?’ Coutts looks to Social Media as an opportunity to engage with a broader audience. It’s a medium through which we can demonstrate the breadth of our expertise and help our clients, and potential clients, connect with the brand. It’s also a great way to understand first hand how people feel about key issues and events that are going on right now”, says Steven Hewlett-Light, Head of Digital Content and Channels.

“If you don’t respond quickly, the general public will do it for you! You need to have open and engaged dialogue”

Drew says humour , personality and customer understanding can not only fix errors but produce winning content. “Be authentic and show who you are on social media with engaging tweets, videos or Instagram photos. Think about what will interest your audience, such as customers doing product selfies,” he says.

But humour can backfire. In 2013, as the US considered military action in Syria, fashion designer Kenneth Cole tweeted ‘Boots on the ground or not, let’s not forget about sandals and loafers’.  “There are some events you can’t use as a marketing opportunity,” says Stuart.

On other occasions on social media you can.

Back in 2012, a 13-year-old girl set up an online petition complaining that her younger brother could not buy a Hasbro ‘Easy Bake’ oven because they were designed with pink packaging. Forty thousand signatures later, Hasbro introduced a more gender-neutral black and silver range.

Stuart urges entrepreneurs never to forget why they are on social media. “You want to engage with customers so more will buy your goods,” he says. “Every part of your team from sales to marketing and communications need to work together to take the opportunity. Just think twice before you post!”


Social media is now a key way that entrepreneurs can market their businesses, but it also gives customers an unprecedented amount of control over the conversation. It’s important to respond quickly and with understanding to their concerns if you want to avoid a flurry of negative tweets and posts.