The newsjacking blunder
SEO professionals have always made use of rising searches on Google to create content that drives traffic to a website. Twitter Trends now offers a more readily available opportunity to jump on a trending topic or hashtag. However, before that, it's critical to understand the reason why a topic is trending before deciding whether this is appropriate.
On 20 July 2012, Celeb Boutique, a UK-based online store that lets people fashion themselves in the style of their favourite celebrities, saw #Aurora was trending and, ignorant of the fact it was related to a mass shooting at a cinema in Colorado, tweeted:
"#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ; Shop: celebboutique.com/aurora-white-p..."
Within an hour, hundreds of people had retweeted the post and a Facebook group calling for a boycott of the company had already sprung up.
Various responses to the tweet called it "clueless," "classless," "soulless" and "wrong on every level".
Despite issuing an immediate apology, in which the company said that "it had not checked the reason for the trend", the damage had been done and search results for the store on Google are now dominated by reports on its "misguided tweet".
The irate customer
In August 2012, Mark Pledger returned home from a disappointing trip to the cinema and complained on Odeon's Facebook page about the poor service he'd received and the extortionate prices he'd been charged.
His rant struck a cord with other so many people that it received nearly 300,000 likes and more than 25,000 comments.
The press also picked up on the story, exacerbating the PR nightmare for the company and highlighting how one customer now has the potential to reach a huge audience.
The celebrity tweet
Earlier this year, Miley Cyrus tweeted: "Broke my iPhone screen agaiiiiin! Whyyyyy are this phones made of hahdiksjsjks GLASS!!!!"
More than 5,000 people retweeted her throwaway comment and hundreds more responded by sharing their own experience of damaging their iPhone.
Our research into frustration with the durability of the iPhone found there were roughly 1,000 more complaints a day about the issue compared to the previous month, suggesting the Hannah Montana star was not alone in her frustration.
Headline-grabbing statistics showing Justin Bieber to be the most influential user on Twitter are easy to disparage but the familiarity that social networking creates through the one-to-many communication is very powerful and can readily create situations in which stars are able to shape purchasing behaviour (even if the experienced professional likes to believe his or her expertise is more widely valued by the public).
The familiarity created by a celebrity sharing mundane snippets of their life, that even tabloids and gossip magazines may have once overlooked, is a unique and powerful way of establishing a closer relationship with fans.
"Dunbar's number", which suggests that 150 is the maximum number of friends with whom we can maintain a meaningful relationship, is widely touted as one of the limits of social networks but, besides overlooking the importance of loose ties, the sense that a celebrity is listening to us creates room for them in our close circles.
Even if they only respond to the occasional tweet from another fan, it creates the impression they are paying attention to what we have to say too, reinforcing the sense of closeness we feel to them.
Miley's particular experience also happened to tie into a growing meme which suggested that Android handsets (overlooking the fact it's merely an operating system and, in a different way, also underlining the very loose ties that connect perceptions within social media) are more durable than the iPhone: "iPhone falls to the floor* Breaks screen. *Android falls to the floor* Breaks floor."
When Miley makes a comment that ties into these existing preconceptions, her fans are more likely to engage with the remark and it's not hard to imagine this being transferred into 'real-world' conversations:
"Oh no, I just dropped my iPhone and cracked the screen"
"Miley Cyrus did that the other day too!"
It's the sharing of very routine, day-to-day experiences that make the fan feel like they have a special connection with the celebrity and encourages them to share their comments more widely with their own friends. If you're attempting to divide 'influencers' into celebrities and 'people like us', I think you've missed the fundamental point that, because of social media, younger people do perceive these celebrities to be someone just like them.
It's very easy to suggest that a celebrity has limited influence outside their own industry but the vast number of teenagers who hang on their every comment is illustrative of the new type of influence that they're developing through social media. Add an exploding meme into this equation and you have a potentially toxic mix for any brand.
Extracting insight from social media
In the past, marketers and PR professionals often had to second-guess the issues that mattered to their customers. Today, we have a rich and comprehensive source of customer insight at our fingertips. The challenge is to identify, extract and filter actionable insights from the ever-growing mass of social opinion. This can be achieved through a mixture of sophisticated monitoring technology and expert researchers.
After all, it would be a waste to allow opinions, perceptions, and needs expressed spontaneously in real time, and on the record, to lay dormant in data, when this data can be mined to uncover previously unrevealed insights.