Coles and Twitter – not a fail.

We see it every now and again – a company try and use Twitter as a forum to encourage discussion. Last night, Coles dropped a Tweet that seemed innocent enough:

Being Twitter, people soon caught on to the tweet, and started to add their own answers to the Twitterverse. Lots of snark, jokes, everything from political to very random answers. The biggest, by far, was response to Coles’ image and products. People talking about the various ad campaigns, new theme songs, quality of produce, pricing, new ACCC complaints about their behaviour with suppliers, amongst other things. This happened over the course of a few hours on the night of the 6th of March. It soon ended after @Coles published a follow up tweet:

At least they somewhat understood what they did. Evidently, it seems that discussion starter was meant for Facebook; a social media platform where it is much easier to remove replies that you may not like and control your message, somewhat.

Coles isn’t the first to do this, nor will they be the last. Axel Bruns’ recent post on Mumbrella show some of the recent Twitter ‘fails’ by other Aussie companies. A favourite of mine was the Qantas #qantasluxury competition, as the timing around when they grounded planes was immaculate; and I’ll put my hand up so say I tried adding my humour to the feed, much like I did with Coles’ attempt at marketing.

Why don’t I consider Coles’ unfortunate attempt at ‘Social Meda-ing” a fail? There’s a few reasons. Now I’m no SMEG (much in the same way that I’m not a climate scientist), but I like to think I know a thing or two about the various Social Media landscapes…

For starters, Coles didn’t delete the tweet. It’s rather easy to think that you can undo all your mistakes by deleting what you did. This isn’t how the Twitterverse works. Once they’ve picked up something, they will happily run with it. But once you delete the initial tweet that sparked it, you’re in for an even wilder ride. People often judge how you handle situations like this worse than the initial issue, so handling the negativity is crucial. If anything, it’s given some sincerity back to their Twitter face by admitting it was a silly mistake, but not taking it down. Kudos.

Secondly, how worse were the tweets that quoted Coles, any worse than is talked about on Twitter on any other night? On an average night in my feed, there’s usually a couple of mentions of Coles. Whether it’s one of their silly ads or new theme songs, a mention of their price war and how it may affect farmers, or just a general tweet about what is or isn’t available at a person’s local Coles. Let’s face it, Twitter is a great way to announce your negative experiences as easy as your positive ones. Now that plenty of companies have Twitter accounts, it’s even easier to tell them what you really think. And, well, that is exactly what happened last night. Sure, most of the comments will probably be ignored, and won’t change their corporate policies, but it may be a bit of a shake to pass on to the company, that maybe they aren’t doing as well in the popularity stakes as they think.

Finally, lets face it, Social Media is a very new avenue of marketing and PR. There are plenty of bad ways of doing it (robotic marketing feeds, I’m looking at you), but no real, magic right way. Just like there is no right, or correct, way to use Twitter, just lots of bad ways. People in this job are no doubt still learning how to use these streams properly, so things like this are bound to happen. The key thing is that they LEARN from this experience, both Coles in general, and their marketing team. It’s a brave new world, where the message you are selling can be easily disseminated, changed and commented upon by the general public quickly. Besides, it got the brand name out and into the Twitter wild, and while it wasn’t all positive, it sure was better than nothing at all.

Hell, let’s play devils advocate and say that’s what they wanted? They sure got their name out, to compliment the sheer volume of advertising they do elsewhere. Sometimes, it’s all about the name.

No, I don’t consider this a fail at all. I consider this a ‘whoops’. They took ownership, admitted what they did wasn’t ideal, and didn’t delete the original tweet. The shenanigans passed within a few hours, and now the ‘storm’ is about people cashing in and calling it a ‘fail’, because they can. It’s very easy to call it a fail, whether it’s because you think anything you don’t think is right is a fail, or because you like calling things out as fails. It’s still easy to do it.

I call a fail something more along the lines of posting something intended for your private account to the NAB Twitter feed, or by demanding Twitter shut down the account of a fake, parody account with your name on it. Not this. This was a marketing ‘whoops’, that was handled somewhat gracefully, despite a lot of negative, snarky tweets. It would be too easy to delete the tweet and pretend it never happened, but it turned out to be an interesting PR excercise for the @Coles team. It’s far from a ‘fail’.

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