Dorothy Crenshaw September 7, 2013 | 07:02:55

When Customers Fight Back – With Promoted Tweets!

As every PR or reputation expert knows, social media cuts both ways. It can be a critical outlet for real-time promotion and customer relations and a useful branding tool. It can also be a megaphone for unhappy consumers. Any brand who puts itself out there needs to be ready.

Earlier this week, a businessman named Hasan Syed raised the bar for disgruntled customers everywhere. When British Airways lost his father’s luggage and wasn’t sufficiently responsive to the problem, Syed invested $1000 in promoted Tweets to rail against the airline publicly. For those unfamiliar with Twitter’s self-serve ad platform, suffice to say that $1000 can go a long way if you know what you’re doing.

Things really took off when Syed’s tweets caught the attention of a savvy JetBlue marketing executive who was clearly monitoring the competition. Syed then promoted the JetBlue retweet, and his campaign gained more altitude. The angry tweets were seen by more than 50,000 Twitter users in the markets targeted, the UK and New York. The mainstream media, from Mashable to Fox, quickly escalated the story.

British Airways, meanwhile, did post an apology and tried to move the conversation offline, although it may have been too little, too late.

This first known example of customer “complainvertising,” as one agency dubbed it, is an interesting precedent. I’m not sure how many customers would be willing to spend so freely out of pure frustration when normal channels might suffice, but it only takes one.

Pundits already see the potential for disgusted customers with deep pockets to take on large brand, – or, more likely, for businesses to use promoted Tweets to hijack the Twitter streams of competitors. It puts pressure on Twitter to police any kind of trolling more strictly. Yet, more interesting to PRs,  it also offers more brands a way to seize opportunities for real-time marketing, like the creative Twitter observer who suggested that BA archrival @VirginAtlantic buy Syed’s father a new suitcase and clothes. That didn’t happen in this instance, but it would have fueled a whole new fleet of stories.

In any event, it’s a minor PR coup for JetBlue, and a huge red flag for businesses who aren’t prepared for the inevitable social media-fueled customer outrage if they won’t straighten up and fly right.

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