Classic example of a social media brand disaster

I recently watched an classic example of a social media brand disaster unfold in real time, and it’s an example worth sharing.

It started with an apparently everyday errand. Actor Frances Barber (@francesbarber13 – current Twitter followers 22,000+) visited a branch of the locksmiths Banham. Banham is generally seen as a well-regarded brand with a certain amount of value attached to it – only they can make you keys for one of their locks, for example, so they position themselves as a little bit apart from ‘the locksmith on the high street’.

Barber never revealed the exact details of the exchange, but shared with her Twitter followers that she had left the shop in tears after having been told to ‘shut up” by one of the staff – there was obviously more to it than that, and the actor herself noted that it’s unusual for her to be upset by something like this, so as she presented it, the event was clearly significantly negative.

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Over the course of the next four or five hours, two things happened:

First, any number of her sympathetic followers expressed disgust or outrage at Banham (@BanhamSecurity), often sharing their own negative experiences of the business’s service.

But second, and in this context most significantly, an overwhelming consensus suddenly emerged that the ‘locksmith on the high street’ brand Timpson was superior to Banham in almost every way. Within a very short period, via Ms Barber’s retweets of messages she was receiving, I learned that Timpson encourages and empowers its front line staff to use their own initiative in offering services and even providing minor work for free; that John Timpson, the current Chief Executive, is the great grandson of the founder, and a champion of many progressive employment practices, including the rehabilitation of offenders via employment; and that basically no one had a bad word to say about his business. Lacking a Timpson Twitter account to direct people to, Barber began hashtagging #timpsons and so the ball rolled on.

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Throughout all this, no one at Banham appeared to be monitoring their Twitter mentions, and in fact at this writing their feed hasn’t been updated in almost two months, (and the previous update was a year before that). Which as with many corporate social media accounts does beg the question; “Why bother?”

Discussion of the effect of celebrities’ comments on social media regularly burbles to the surface of social media marketing conversations, but what fascinated me about this sequence of events is the turn the conversation took. Yes, a certain amount of Banham-bashing happened, of both the “can’t believe they treated you like that” and “I’ve never had a good experience with them” types, but the conversation’s switch to the Timpson lovefest was truly remarkable. And in an odd way, the fact that Timpson isn’t a socially active brand just makes the whole thing feel more authentic – they didn’t (in fact couldn’t) immediately pounce on Banham’s misfortune to make their own capital.

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Fascinating to reflect on – even more fascinating to watch as it happened.