How NOT to Twitter if you are a corporation

A little while back I praised Vodafone New Zealand for their excellent Twittering, inside an article on How to Twitter if you are a Corporation. They reached out to customers, solved problems, gently nudged opinion their way and generally were liked by everybody.

The account was run by Paul Brislen – who let his own account lie idle while he put himself into the Twittersphere.

And then something happened.

Vodafone decided to launch a campaign where “3G Guy” tours New Zealand giving away new net books. A great idea.

Unfortunately rather than using @3Gguy or similar to promote the tour, Vodafone instead passed the respected @vodafoneNZ account over to a pimply youth – 3Gguy.

The results are a fascinating case study.


The audience split into three – those that liked the competition (including new followers), those who saw a corporate PR account turn into a spamming machine, and the silent.

Unfortunately the second category contains many opinion leaders, journalists, web industry stalwarts and telco industry commentators.


While Paul Brislen re-opened his own account, and many people went off to follow him, many more have decided to unfollow @vodafonenz. The net goodwill is negative, and it now leaves @vodafonenz well behind the previously slightly less respected but still very well run @telecomnz team. As Twitter goes, so to the brands and companies.


So what are the lessons here?

Lesson one:

Twittering is better done by individuals, but when those individuals leave and are replaced by folks that don’t get it, their followers may leave with them. If they are disgruntled then the damage could be severe. (So be nice to Paul)

Lesson two:

Keep the promotion and PR accounts separate from each other. The PR account should point to promotions, but not run them. People will find the account that helps them get free stuff very quickly.

Lesson three:

When your audience reacts negatively – do something. The most frustrating thing about this promotion is the feeling that our Twitter friend, Paul Brislen, has been taken over against his will (my theory, not at all backed up by any fact) by out of control cluless marketing lunatics. It’s as if we now see the real Vodafone coming through – a Vodafone that doesn’t listen, that steamrolls over opposition and that has lost all the goodwill that Paul built up. It’s sad.


What Vodafone should do is simple – accept and acknowledge the error, move the 3Gguy twitter stream to his own account and put Paul back on (exclusively) the @vodafonenz account. Vodafone also need to learn from Paul, and take his guidance on how to run his account going forward.

So let’s have a look at the Twitter stream damage. It’s pretty fun actually, like watching a slow motion train wreck* in action.  *one where nobody is on the train

Here’s a recent page of @vodafonenz mentions from my Tweekdeck. I’ve helpfully colour-coded the tweets. Orange refers to the competition website being broken, Green is a customer service request, and Red are negative comments about the campaign and Vodafone. I’ve named the boxes for the colour blind and those that don’t read this bit and just want the pictures:

But wait – there is more – a lot more, under the fold I have pulled out some of the latest (mostly) negative twitters about Vodafone.

<update – But first – an ad break!


There’s also @vfNZno3Gguy, which retweets all the @vodafoneNZ and @paulBrislen tweets that are not about the promotion. If that isn’t a cluestick enough then there is no hope.

The vfNZno3Gguy account


Selected tweets. There are a lot more.











Clearly this post is striking a chord – plenty of retweets:

Published by Lance Wiggs


45 replies on “How NOT to Twitter if you are a corporation”

  1. interestingly they did start @3gGuy, but it just said to follow @vodafonenz. They almost had it, but wanted to blast a wider, already following, audience i guess, rather than build @3gGuy on its own.


  2. Hi Lance, thanks for the post… it’s very informative and not a tad entertaining!

    I have to say though that we’re simply trying out Twitter. I’m pretty sure there are no rules so we (and by we in large part I mean I) are experimenting. This part clearly didn’t work, but at least we’re giving it a go. Don’t see any other corporate even trying these days (come back @orcon… it’s quiet in here) so I’m quite pleased to see such a response.

    Yes, a lot of it’s negative, but it’s also very clear: some customers simply do not want that kind of interaction. That’s cool – we can fix that. Some customers, however, are very keen on it, and the @vodafonenz account has picked up a net gain of 200 followers in the past week. That’s not bad and shouldn’t be ignored.

    Either way, we’re learning a lot about a great new medium. Some of it’s intuitive (Customers don’t like marketing speak… got that, already knew it) but some of it isn’t (I thought the retweet competition was a great idea. More fool me!).

    Most of all it tells me I need a pay rise and a new title. Sadly I think in the office they’re likely to simply call me a twat, which doesn’t look too good on a business card.

    Either way, the beauty of Twitter is that it’s so very impermanent … well, having written that I’m HOPING that’s the beauty of it. Much like newspapers are only true enough to get to the next edition, Twitter is really so very much embedded in the here and now that I’m hoping once life returns to “normal” all that remains of this experiment is the learning.

    Best of all, it’s not dull is it? The feedback I’ve had on this one project has been overwhelming and tells me Twitter really can deliver the goods. Now I’ve got to figure out what those goods are and how to use it… either way, it’s bags of fun.




  3. Thanks for the reply Paul – and very quickly as well.

    You’ll note that I believe that the damage is somewhat revocable – we accept that Twitter is a learning process, and there is a path out.

    The question is whether you are in control or not. I understand that if you are not in control of this marketing screw-up then you are clearly not being listened, have insufficient political clout and Vodafone NZ look stupid for ignoring their greatest PR asset.

    If you are in control – then there is still time…

    I would be very careful of counting numbers of followers as a measure of success. There are any number of ways to acquire followers, but in the Twitteralaxy there is quality and quantity – and the two rarely overlap.

    I would instead count the impact that followers have on Vodafone’s PR, the attention that they will pay to your messages and, on the downside, posts like this and perhaps more national media backlash.

    However rest assured if you jump ship to Telecom or 2Degrees you’ll be sure to bring a bunch of people with you in Twitterland.


  4. I think what it has shown is the importance of the personality behind an account – Social Media is transparent, it only reflects those behind it. Paul has done (without a doubt) a fantastic job running the VodafoneNZ account. I have heard numerous stories from different people about how helpful he has been.

    Unfortunately their latest attempt with 3G Guy has burned this somewhat but as Paul has mentioned it is an experiment. They can learn from it and move on. In future they need to keep them separate I would have imagined that 3G Guy would have his own account.

    Twitter is like email – once you are in my network in the long run that’s because you are:
    – Anticipated
    – Personal

    That is why VodafoneNZ (powered by Paul) has remained in our networks. Now that has changed people aren’t happy – the tweets are no longer anticipated, personal or relevant (at least not to everyone).

    I am sure it will return back to normal but we are not reinventing the wheel here I do think this situation could have been avoided.


  5. Not sure if you mentioned it but the non-Paul Breslin replacement for @vodafonenz was also very confrontational toward @TelecomNZ.

    Companies are held to a higher standard on Twitter and must keep to a strict regimen of honesty and humility or face ruining their carefully built and costly reputations.

    You say there’s no rules but I disagree. Advertising under the guise of being an entity feels dishonest to most of us, hence the unfollows.

    I almost got in on your screenshots. Maybe next time. Go @audaciousgloop! :D


  6. It does raise broader questions for a corporate entity… if you’ve got an individual tweeting and that individual leaves do you lose all the value that’s gone before?

    I’m keen on avoiding that. We need to build a social media strategy that means a: we can cope with one person out of the mix and b: it still retains that personality.

    Newspapers do this a fair bit – I like to think Computerworld retains a certain flavour even though the staff who worked on it when I began in 1997 have all moved on.

    The Doctor changes but the Tardis stays the same…

    As it stands, I’ve been fully behind the @3G Guy campaign. I’m the one who suggested handing over the main account to the contest. I wouldn’t to it again – next time we’ll create a separate account and simply point to it from @vodafonenz. There’s no overlord of comms at Vodafone telling me what to do here – they’re encouraging me to explore this strange new world (go see the new Trek by the way, it’s awesome) and to kick the tyres a bit and see how it works.

    And what a learning curve! Instead of firing out 140 character comments and wondering whether anyone reads them I now have people telling me they do and telling me to get back to it and writing blog posts about it and emailing me and generally being loud about it. How cool is that?

    It tells me I was right in my approach (intuitive that it was, with no foundation beyond my own ‘feeling’ about what would work) and that generally speaking we’re doing the right thing.

    It’s been a tremendous experience for me. I find I always learn more from mistakes than from doing it right first time and that’s definitely the case here.

    Bags of fun.





  7. Great to hear you have the autonomy Paul – and I am glad that the overlord of VF appreciates what you are doing.

    You are right – it’s all about 2 way engagement – building a network of supporters and making sure the doubters stay fact based.

    Telecomnz has a team, which is an interesting idea but it does create the potential for a schizo personality, which you have to solve by have less personality.

    But please – can’t we hand the account back now?


  8. Nice article, Lance. I agree with your conclusions. I accept Paul’s comments that they’re only learning but, really, didn’t we learn this in 1994 with Canter and Seigel?


  9. Great post, Lance, and awesome comment back Paul.

    I think the success of @salest (900% increase in web traffic) through a pretty commercial approach shows that it’s simply about expectations.

    @salest was new, so people didn’t know what to expect, then they started doing a retweet-based competition. And it worked for them, because they’re just a bar, they don’t have big complex PR issues. And also, because they hadn’t set the expectation by being a great conversationalist.

    In retrospect, it looks like a separate @3gguy account would’ve been the way to go, because then people could still relate to Paul as the friendly, approachable, INTERESTING guy he is. Sadly, Paul’s become a (temporary) victim of his own success.

    For a similar international backlash, see what happened to Chris Brogan when he explored paid-for content on his blog:

    While plenty of other people mix advertising and editorial, Chris had formed a reputation for being the good guy, even writing a book called Trust Economies.

    And even though Chris was upfront about his arrangement, he suffered a backlash from people who felt he had violated their trust.

    The specifics are different here, but the issue is the same – Paul had set the bar very high, and Vodafone corporately have just lowered it a bit.

    Interesting to see that those who complain have generally been on Twitter for longer. But that’s another blog post for another day.


  10. Paul

    Just hand out the prizes on the @PaulBrislen account = everyone happy real fast.What the hell – hand them out on Geekzone as well;

    Great fronting up to this experience – not many people would have the cojones to do that.

    Finally – although we do not have the gravitas of either Vodafone or Telecom NZ, you will find some ‘corporate’ presence (well if you can call 16 people a corporate) on @TeamSnapper.




  11. It’s like going to watch your favourite band and at the first intermission, some dude walks up to the main mic and goes:
    “I know you came here for your band but they’re gone now. We’ve replaced them with some guy giving out free shit! Who wants to play a game? Did I mention there was free shit you can win?”
    Try that at a concert and see what it gets you…


  12. Appreciate this article immensely, Lance. Paul, kudos to you for your reply. Totally agree that we learn more from our mistakes.

    Such an excellent example of how a corporate account isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all for a brand. Just as we all use Twitter differently, likely our followers/customer interact with us for different reasons. Important to keep that in mind – market segments.

    Thank you very, very much.

    Keep up the good work. Thanks for the wakeup call. I’m impressed, Paul.

    ~ Lizz


  13. Hi Lance,
    The @Telecomnz team is only a couple of people backed by an informal group of passionate people that are familiar bloggers and discussion board members. We are in constant contact so we can try to avoid the schizo personality problem and also means we have a consistent back up in case somebody is away.
    We are focussed on growing and creating engagement, while having fun and not being a corporate robot I hope!



  14. Karen

    Kudos to you as well Karen for replying for @TelecomNZ.

    I was trying to walk the line there and failed. No – you are not robots. However I do think Paul has more successfully bought his own personality to the @Vodafonenz presence a bit than you and your team have so far to @Telecomnz. That’s mainly because he tweets as an individual, but also because he seems a little more unleashed/

    Obviously there is an advantage to the Telecom approach – when you move on from Telecom Karen the Telecomnz experience will continue without pause. When Paul moves on it will take a while for the Twitterfolk to train his replacement.

    That’s not to say you have not both done well – and what’s even better is that you we are talking telcos here.



  15. Simon
    I met the tech guys behind the Salest promo today – impressive what they have achieved.

    I believe it’s a powerful mechanism if used wisely, which means that whatever they are tweeting/retweeting has to be of significant value to somebody’s followers.


  16. Lance – as always a super post. I’m only bummed that feeling a bit flu-ey meant I didn’t pick up on it till this am. Firstly kudos to Paul for fronting up, I agree with his thoughts re needing a corporate twitter account to be about more than one person, and I think while Neil, Karen et al over at TelecomNZ do a great job of doing twitter collectively it loses some of the… context maybe that Paul had on VodafoneNZ.

    Funnily enough I’m in the process of helping a NZ division of a large multinational explore social media – and this discussion is one we’ve looked at. part of it is an execution issue – finding the right tool to enable group control of a corporate Twitter account, but much more is cultural – having a touchstone document (hey – it can even be a virtual document – I’m not fussed) that articulates the “rules” around the account – stuff like no overt advertising, no bad-mouthing the competition… stuff like that.

    Anyway – a great post and, more importantly, a great conversation going on. Kudos to the brave souls at voda and telecom for getting a little on the edge and joining in….


  17. This has been fascinating; but Vodafone are very lucky in one respect, their comms guy (Paul) is genuinely a great communicator, which is not as common as you’d think in the PR space.

    Picking up on your point Lance: I am particularly interested in the skickiness of the social capital Paul has built up. He has generated goodwill through long hours of community engagement, and that value doesn’t seem to be easily transferred to the organisation as a whole.

    It makes Paul’s SM engagement from a corporate level seem more like a ”celebrity endorsement” than the activity of a “corporate spokesperson”

    Also great summary – thanks. .


  18. OT: Whilst the @salest campaign did create a large number of tweets in a short time, and increase visitation to their site by a quoted 900% I still think we need to be careful.

    Firstly as Lance notes re: quantity vs quality, the followers of Sale St are not loyal or deeply engaged, so one finds themselves spiking activity through campaign efforts – which is precisely what we often like to scoff at with traditional advertising. It certainly isn’t onboard the Clue Train…

    I’d also pay little attention to a % increase in web traffic – who ever visits the website of a bar? And a new one at that? And what are Sale St doing with these visitors to turn them into patrons? The website doesn’t appear to do a good job of this at all…its a brochure with not CTAs and events listed badly on a subpage.

    The actual metric is spend at the bar normalised against the campaign. Keen to hear this info…

    Also Spreadit need to stop banging on about SEO/Pagerank coming from Twitter and Facebook lest they look at best clueless, and at worst deceptive… rel=”nofollow” anyone?


  19. I am not going to wade in here to much, other than to say that despite Paul’s rather confusing “Come back @Orcon it is quiet in here” I can assure you that we (and by we I mean, for the most part, me) at Orcon are definitely still alive and well on Twitter.

    You just have to check our timeline to see that –

    Duncan Blair
    Head of Brand and Communications


  20. @orcon – the reason @paulbrislen (and probably lots of us) haven’t seen a tweet from you in a while is most likely the new reply rules on twitter – all but a very few of your recent tweets are @someuser, so other people won’t see you in the conversation by default


  21. In a world of overseas call centres and online support tickets Twitter has provided us all a reasonably privileged, informed and very human point of contact within these large companies – Paul, Neil and Duncan have all been doing stellar jobs in their respective organisations.

    However, it has been early days and as Twitter grows it’s naive to think that this is a channel that can be kept out of the hands of the Marketing Dept. Our challenge is to help Twitter influence those marketeers in positive ways rather than vice versa. Sadly, my guess is that there are more unsuccessful experiments to come and hopefully ‘social media experts’ don’t become the snake oilers that many SEO people did.

    That all said, I’m feeling a bit hypocritical about being on one hand aggrieved that @vodafonenz is being used for blatantly promotional purposes, then on the other willingly spamming my followers with an @salest message (still feeling dirty).

    Great conversation here – thanks Lance.


  22. @samfarrow … happy to hope you any day, even if Lance won’t. Good points there about the celebrity spokesperson, I’m picking that personal branding is going to either collide or collude with corporate branding big time in the next few years.

    Ross – all good points about the limitations of the sale st campaign. My point being that 3Gguy-type strategies work on a tactical level (ie where the aim is to get web traffic) but may not fit into a larger strategy the likes of which Vodafone needs.

    In fact, Vodafone hasn’t really had a social media strategy per se, it’s been Paul building relationships, just like he’s always done. Maybe there’s a lesson in that.

    Gareth, great comments too. As someone who’s been called a social media expert by some, I can assure you I will do my bit to keep things authentic. Let’s see how clients feel about that! :)


  23. What is with this backlash? Seems that people are way too precious about their twitter.

    Being a Mac guy, I don’t care for the kit Vodafone is giving away, but I do like the promotion. I like it’s in-formalness, I like the way it’s conducted, heck it’s fun even.

    Of course with the launch of the Telecom network this week they weren’t going to wait for a twitter base for @3gguy to get the promotion out there. I’m not offended by it, it hasn’t added extra traffic to the twittersphere, and after all there is the unfollow button, which people not only seem to be using but moaning about it.

    At least it’s not 2,000 RT of more mundane marketing crap about how to increase your online virility.

    If you are a Vodafone customer like me, this does not offend me, it will not make me switch to the other side, not even if sad old Hamster is in a racing suit.

    Sorry what was I doing, back to clue #2…


  24. @Simon Young: I think the Sale Street promo failed in the end. I think Che’s reply to my tweet about getting a free drink at Kermadecks summed it up nicely:

    “Dang — you mean you can get free booze WITHOUT whoring yourself in a social media campaign? Beat THAT”

    Lance touched on this above but we were talking about this yesterday and came to the conclusion that Retweeting really has to benefit _your follower_ and not necessarily yourself. In fact the best re-tweet is one where you have no personal gain for re-tweeting – If you can get people to do that then you have real engagement (Think @flyairnz Grab-a-Seat deals). We are obviously all in the early days here and I do think we should be experimenting with these types of issues (Hell I even suggested auto-tweeting RSS feeds back in the bad old days of 2008).

    This has been a great learning curve for all of us in the web space – I will be interested to see some of these experiments actually work.


  25. Paul – there are no formal rules on Twitter you’re correct. In much the same way as there are no formal rules for a chat we have down at the pub. There is however an informal and “accepted norm” notion that says some things are OK and some are not.

    Unless of course you wish for anarchy in all things…


  26. I agree with Karen and Ben.

    Sure there are no explicit rules for using Twitter, but as in any social group, norms around accepted behaviour evolve from within the group. If social networking is just another extension of the human experience, then of course we will bring some existing norms with us.

    No doubt, other norms will come into existence as the technology enables new ways of moderating human interactions. Pushing boundaries is a great thing, but slow learners will not be suffered by the group indefinitely.

    To paraphrase my accountant, sometimes a bad idea is a bad idea…putting it online doesn’t make it less bad.


  27. There are no rules, but there are relationships. We get an idea of what to do by what’s best for the person we have a relationship with – even if that’s a very peripheral relationship.

    Glen, that was spot on about retweets being for the good of your followers, not just for you. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll refrain from retweeting something, even if it’s good, if it says “please RT”


  28. So the storm has left the tea cup and ‘outraged of Ponsonby’ via the twitterverse can rest easy. @3Gguy has left the tardis and @vodafonenz is back in the seat.

    Wow that was worth it.


  29. i wonder if it had been anyone other than paul running the vodafone twitter, would we have even been following, paul’s wit kept me following.

    and i’m still there as 3 g guy is almost gone, he seems to give the prizes out even when he’s not at the clue location, so it all sounds a bit sad


  30. Great post.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the jump in VF followers is simply due to the fact that people love to watch a train crash.

    I think with a bit of sense this whole thing could have been avoided, I mean, VF wouldn’t hand over their entire homepage to the 3gguy campaign, that campaign has it’s own microsite, so why hand over their entire twitter account?

    Would have made more sense to have Paul mention the competition and drive traffic that way.


  31. Thanks Lance,

    Another timely update – I have referred to both of your posts on a couple of sites – hope that trackback work for you.

    I think Orcon and 2Degrees could do a whole lot better but as always this time next week will see a whole raft of new changes and improvements as it should.


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