Will Twitter learn its lesson after flying into abusive tweets storm?

Twitter has been feted as a tool that has helped democratise information. From being used as a conduit for pro-democracy campaigners around the world to a means for brands to engage with people and manage reputations, Twitter has enjoyed a period almost unblemished by negative headlines.

Russell Parsons

Until now. The past week has highlighted the negative potential that Twitter’s platform for freedom of thought provides.

The microblogging site has faced its first major test of crisis management and has been left wanting. To recap, it came under fire from feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and others over the repeated rape and death threats they had received on the site and the lack of redress for the victims of abuse.

Twitter’s response was muted at first, leading to high-profile Twitter users, such as The Times columnist Caitlin Moran, boycotting the site for one day in protest.

More worrying for Twitter executives is the hit to its brand perception.

Ironically, Twitter initially failed to heed the actions of brands using its site to activate reputation management 101– use whatever instant means are available to acknowledge responsibility and assure people you are taking action to address the issue.

The difficulties experienced by Twitter are not unlike those suffered by Facebook earlier this year when it came under fire from campaign groups for the volume of pages hosted on the site advocating violence against women. At the time, the social network also drew criticism for its piecemeal response. It only sprang into action after advertisers such as Sky, Nissan and Nationwide boycotted the site.

Publicly at least, Twitter has yet to attract that level of concern from brands. It should, however, heed the lesson.

What makes Twitter a marketing opportunity also has the potential to damage its reputation among the advertisers it covets. It is a brand and therefore has a reputation to protect, foster and grow.

Twitter’s response to the crisis was belatedly sound. UK general manager Tony Wang’s personal apology to the women that experienced the abuse was well judged, its acknowledgement of feedback and enhancements to abuse reporting processes necessary. It just needs to make sure it acts with greater expediency at the next whiff of reputation damage.

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