How Twitter Killed Unsuspecting Celebs – Case Study in Use of Social Media

Former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher passed away yesterday. What does that have to do with Social Media Optimisation (SMO)?

Well, Twitter did not break the story this time, but it can be an efficient communication tool for even the smallest businesses, especially if you are trying to reach younger, active or more tech-savvy audience. A few newsworthy, useful, catchy, conversational or simply funny tweets can “sell” your brand/product and showcase your expertise in a way that traditional channels cannot match. It is not a substitute for other forms of communication, exposure and promotion, but a great complementary tool that can turn your followers (or their contacts if your messages get shared or go viral) into prospective clients or advocates.

OK, back to Margaret Thatcher now.. Or the American singer Cher? Or possibly Cher Lloyd, the British, post-X Factor singer-songwriter and model??

Well, with the former British PM’s death announcement, the hashtag “#nowthatchersdead” started spreading through Twitterspace like wildfire. Whether perpetuated through the controversial microsite www.isthatcherdeadyet.co.uk, or simply passed on with the multiplying respectful and hateful personal comments, it reached the social network’s top trending news. Twitter estimates that the volume of messages rivalled the announcement of the new Pope.

Unfortunately, probably somewhere between the British and USA shores, a “lost in translation” hiccup occurred, with the hashtag being interpreted as.. information about singer Cher’s death. That triggered the grief-stricken fans of the 66 year old star to spread the “news” about the passing of the wrong female icon (!).

Example tweets fuelling the confusion:

  • “I can’t believe that Cher is dead. Do you believe in life after love?” (Nicholas Mulligan)
  • “#nowthatchersdead rip Cher you were loved for your titanic song” (Eamon McArdle)
  • “As it seems to be pretty controversial on twitter, this will be my only tweet on Cher Lloyd’s death. RIP you pink haired princess.” (David Stringer).

On the other hand, some (predominantly British) users tried to quell the hoax storm. English comedian Ricky Jervais was one of a number of prolific tweeters to join in with a statement: “Some people are in a frenzy over the hashtag #nowthatchersdead. It’s “Now Thatcher’s dead”. Not, “Now that Cher’s dead”. JustSayin’”. His clarification was shared nearly 6,000 times.

Ricky Gervais' tweet on #nowthatchersdead

(Credit: Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

This may not seem significant compared to the rate of 100,000 tweets per hour reached when “King of Pop” Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009 (Twitter servers crashed under the pressure of the activity on the platform). But, thanks to Twitter users’ haste and eagerness to believe the information passed through “real people”, Margaret Thatcher’s death inadvertently managed to “kill off” also two very different high profile women (!).

In standard PR terms, this would need to be followed with profuse explanations and apologies. We can bet though that, in Twitter world, no such backtracking will occur. Consider yourself warned though..

To summarise, Twitter can be an amazing, low maintenance tool. But you may do yourself – and your business – more harm than good, so remember to:

  • Be prudent with your use of hastags (as the example above shows) and always check your facts before re-tweeting anything high-impact.
  • Check trending topics – how can you join in a conversation if you are not listening carefully?
  • Do not feel pressured to (or – worse still – automatically) return every and any new follow you gain; Twitter ethics have changed as the number of spammers and bots (non-human generated accounts) ballooned over the years, so always check who/what the follower is, what they represent with their posts, and – indeed – if you want to tune into their messages.
  • Get involved and personal! Tweeter users are (for the most part;) just people, and everyone appreciates a bit of effort and an individual approach.
  • Do not take the easy route of connecting only with other businesses rather than genuine individuals (unless you are a strict B2B and can manage the demanding environment in which everyone just “shouts out” their latest special offer).
  • Regularly “prune” who you follow, as – let’s face it – things change over time.
  • Be inquisitive and search for “new voices” in your niche; only following set individuals or organisations may mean you are missing out on some great insights and trends.

Now, did you tweet something useful today?:)

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Written by Karolina Kotwica

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