Thursday, 8 December 2011

‘Clarkson-like' comments and the social web

Two weeks ago it was the charming antics of a delinquent dog that caused a hashtag storm on Twitter. Last week it was unfortunately just a delinquent. There is one phrase that links them both, and that is ‘Jesus Christ!’

If there was a generic headline for last week’s avalanche of publicity for Top Gear’s Top Buffoon it would have said, “Breaking news: Idiot says something idiotic” with the sub-heading “idiot continues career in idiotic statements.” At least Penguin (publishers of Clarkson’s latest book) can look forward to a lucrative festive period after blanket coverage - a publicity masterstroke.

It would be very easy now to continue this post in a sanctimonious manner and ‘Clarkson bash’ but, alas, it has no doubt been done elsewhere. There is one point though that I would like to drag out of this and I’d imagine that many other PR folk would have been asking themselves the same question. Whilst the BBC reacted swiftly to avoid another Sachsgate last week, how should digital marketers and brand managers react to the Clarksons of the social web?

Far too often, unwanted opinions are shared across social media channels in a wholly un-social way, yet brands leave them up as a badge to prove how ‘social’ they are. Peter Wood points out here that whilst ‘the democratisation of the social web is indeed a wonderful thing, the shift in power from brand to customer has hugely impacted our rights as consumers,’ and I agree. In short, I have a right to go on a brand’s FB page and not see a post from another customer that could, if said in public, result in arrest. Behold the below.

So, whilst the BBC should apologise for Clarkson’s comments (as well as giving Piers Morgan the opportunity in the form of 140 characters to take the moral high-ground) perhaps the real lesson to learn is for us social media managers. If viewers of The One Show can expect an apology for Clarkson’s comments from the BBC and Clarkson himself, fans of brands’ social channels should expect an apology when comments are made by the Clarkson’s of the social web. Moderation is necessary, not just for the credibility of the brand but also for the experience of the user.


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