Twitter, shower gel and the art of terrible PR

22 01 2010

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to pretend – to myself, at least – that Twitter amounts to more than an enjoyable waste of time. As the regular keeper of the flame, I am at least in part paid to, well, Tweet.

Twitter offers PC Advisor the opportunity to converse with our readers in a closer and more informal manner. It allows us to disseminate information to a wider audience and a different demographic and, in essence, it generates page impressions. But let’s face it – Twitter is a brilliantly effective communication tool that’s almost always used for pointless reasons.

That may not always be the case, and there are plenty of businesses who see Twitter’s PR and customer relations potential. But for all those that get it right, there will always be several companies who try to bend Twitter to their own ends, and just don’t get it.

In the early days of the web, every business rushed to get a website, and then stopped to think about what to do with it. So it is now with social media. The thought process is: we need a social presence, so let’s get on Twitter and Facebook. But if it’s not done properly, the results are worse than not being involved at all. I have examples:

Last year, in the midst of a Kafka-esque struggle through BT customer service, I took time out to have a gentle moan on Twitter. Within minutes I was contacted by a BT Twitter feed, saying sorry for any inconvenience and asking if they/it could help. So far, so brilliant. I immediately felt better toward BT than I had from speaking to any number of call-centre worker bees.

Only trouble is, when I replied with some details, nothing happened. And, indeed, the next time I complained, I was sent exactly the same automated message. Far from feeling warm and fuzzy toward BT, I now felt like they were taking the mickey. Good effort, bad PR.

Followers of my personal Twitter feed ( may have noticed earlier today that I was less than impressed with the lack of shower gel at the gym I frequent – and pay a not inconsiderable amount for. They may not be aware that within an hour or so of me posting my grumble, one Mr D. Bannatyne – BBC Dragon, businessman and owner of said gym – was on the phone to me, my boss (!) and one of my colleagues (a fellow gym user who had the temerity to agree with and retweet my comment).

For full disclosure: I was in a meeting when the call came. (Fortunately, so was my boss.) But my colleague Mark Hattersley, editor in chief of the Macworld UK group, took the call.

According to (respected journalist) Mark, Duncan asked why Mark was ‘slagging him off’ in public, and inquired of my colleague what he thought of ‘UK libel laws and Twitter’. Then he accused my so-laid-back-he’s-virtually-horizontal colleague of being thin-skinned and paranoid. He suggested that an amused Mark was ‘upset’. There was also some talk of man-to-man discussions, cowardice and… well… the usual stuff that happens when businessmen talk to journalists.

As I say, I didn’t take the call, and Mr Bannatyne has yet to phone me back. (I will be more than happy to talk – on the record – if he does so. If nothing else I want to complain about the shower gel situation.)

For even fuller disclosure, here is my original Tweet:

“Shower gel in only two of eight showers, two of which are broken. Truly bannatyne’s gym tavistock square, you are a piss poor establishment.”

Clearly, I could have said something to the staff at the gym. And I didn’t need to use the fruity language. There are worse gyms, and I remain a largely satisfied customer.

But the fact about the showers is true. I pay a lot of money to use them, and I’ve complained to the staff about this before, with no discernible response. (And I just wanted to vent.)

So what was the result of Bannatyne’s strange reaction? Well right now all my colleagues are talking of little else, and they’re not saying nice things about the gym we all frequent. That would not be the case if he’d simply left it alone.

And there will be a great deal of scrutiny of the showers next time we all rock up.

To give Bannatyne his due, he has subsequently been in touch via Twitter, and there has been some (modicum of) joking. He has come across as someone who can laugh at himself and he clearly knows a lot more about running gyms than I do. But given that he at least appears to have a sense of humour, how difficult would it have been to either ignore my Tweet, or respond positively? Either way, surely the best reaction would have been to ask the gym staff about the shower gel situation?

As it is, an opportunity to generate some good PR has been wasted. And I may have to start taking soap to the gym.

Duncan Bannatyne

Bannatyne: “Entrepreneur, Author, Philanthropist and star of Dragons’ Den” (his words)



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