On soccer, Twitter and brand management

Soccer and Twitter don't always mix.

Soccer and Twitter don’t always mix.

I love soccer. It ranks third on the list of things I love, after my kids and my wife. It even lands above social media. But if you talk about social media and soccer, well, I just can’t resist…

Twitter is a tough platform for brand management. When I ran social at Princeton, we walked a tight line between when we would engage with a negative commenter/tweeter or when we would leave them alone. We rarely deleted content, and we only blocked two users in my two years there.

Companies need to have a playbook for how they will handle negative feedback. Some are excellent, and some become the debacle that was Amy’s Baking Company in Arizona.

One thing people – especially known people – forget is that they must act for the betterment of their brand. Sometimes, defending yourself on Twitter isn’t worth it, which can be a lesson to all brands and businesses.

To wit, the tale of Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl.

Before we begin, full disclosure: I know Grant Wahl to some extent. He appeared on a soccer podcast I ran in 2010, I met him at a Princeton function (he’s an alum), and my wife has known him since they were kids. I like Grant personally, and I respected him as a writer and journalist long before I met him.

Wahl is the top soccer writer for Sports Illustrated magazine. He is known throughout the industry, he appears regularly on Fox Sports’s soccer coverage, and he has more than 300,000 followers on Twitter.

Earlier this week, Wahl got sucked into a Twitter war with a user (forgive the link, as most of the relevant tweets are not appearing; the complete exchange can be found here) that mushroomed into battles with multiple users, including a writer for goal.com, former U.S. soccer star Alexi Lalas, two writers for the site SB Nation, and an editor for ESPN’s soccer website. (More full disclosure: I also know the ESPN editor. In fact, he was also on the 2010 podcast with Wahl.)

Since there were a lot of tweets, including some that are not included in the Storify post, here’s the essence of the conflict:

  • Twitter user from goal.com takes a shot at Wahl for a tweet about the FIFA Club World Cup.
  • Wahl objects. Things quickly get personal.
  • As things get more personal, Wahl is baited into taking shots at the writer, goal.com, and the site SB Nation. He even uses the term “Internet tough guy.”
  • Lalas chimes in with a “Whoa, what’s going on?” tweet.
  • Wahl explains that it’s a rehash of the “lame bloggers vs. journalists argument.”
  • Lalas and Wahl discuss, with Wahl pointing out (correctly) that journalists and bloggers are the same thing and should hold the same standards. However, two tweets later, Wahl takes another shot at SB Nation (to be fair, I agree the site is weak and full of click bait).
  • More people chime in, trying to figure it all out, including an ESPNFC editor. In response, Wahl takes a thinly veiled swipe at ESPN for the recent Phil Ball incident.
  • After some more cajoling from Lalas and others, everyone goes back to their Twitter corners and moves on.

Whew. That was a lot.

The whole incident was silly and worthy of the “what the heck?” response from the blog world the next morning. In the end, though, this exchange should provide a number of lessons for people and businesses about how to deal with negative feedback on the web – and especially in social media.

  1. Let it slide: The tweet that started the war was a snide barb. It didn’t need a response. The user has 2,100 followers, and it was after 11 p.m. on the east coast. This could have all disappeared before it started. Businesses and brand ambassadors should look at the context of negative feedback before they dive right in to defend the brand.
  2. Keep it professional: Defending your brand is sometimes necessary. If that’s the case, always keep things on a professional level, even if the person ripping you or your brand is taking the low road. Twitter users are smart enough to spot a troll when they see one. Make it easier by not getting sucked under the bridge with them, no matter how angry you get looking at your computer screen.
  3. Have a consistent message: No matter how heated the confrontation gets on social media, someone will catch you if you change your tune midstream (i.e. putting journalists and bloggers on the same level, then ripping said bloggers).
  4. Focus on the positive of your brand: Coke doesn’t have to tell you that the store brand soda is bad. They tell you how good Coke is. The New York Times doesn’t tell you how lame the local community newspaper is. They show how good they are. When you go negative against your competition, you’ve given them something to target. You’ve given them a reason to try to take down you or your brand.
  5. Own your positions and your mistakes: One thing that should be clear by now is that companies that make mistakes on Twitter (and so many have) and delete or disavow the tweets only get more grief. Tweets are never truly gone. If you get sucked into a mistake or a customer service battle, own it. Use it as an opportunity to improve your credibility, and tell the next potential negative commenter that you are open to frank and honest discussion. In the end, you may earn more respect by admitting you or your company are fallible.

As I said, I love soccer. And many of the people who took part in this unfortunate exchange are my friends, my former colleagues and my peers. When I saw this happening, the fan in me was saddened. The Internet is an infinite space, with plenty of room for brands big and small. The social media consultant in me saw mistakes on almost every front.

Social media can be a wonderful thing, but companies – and people – need to remember that they are, essentially, a brand. Defend that brand when necessary, but also remember that sometimes the best choice is to walk away.

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About Ian Shea-Cahir

Just trying to be the best dad I can be. And watch lots of soccer.

Posted on December 20, 2013, in Social media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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