Embattled brand Twitter

In recent months, Twitter’s brand has taken a beating. From Julia Gillard to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph having a go, Nic Christensen looks at how the brand is faring ahead of the launch of its Australian office. 

It was News Limited’s ‘night of nights’, the News Awards, and editor Paul Whittaker had just won the prestigious CEO Award for the Daily Telegraph’s ‘People Power’ electricity prices campaign. But the audience gathered inside Sydney’s historic State Theatre weren’t about to hear an acceptance speech about electricity prices from the pugnacious editor, known by many as Boris because of his resemblance to tennis player Boris Becker. 

Before an audience of hundreds, including both News Limited CEO Kim Williams and chairman Rupert Murdoch, the editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph thanked his staff before launching into a speech that denounced the social media platform Twitter and trumpeted the success of the newspaper’s ‘Stop The Trolls’ campaign. He boasted about the success of the campaign, at one point even going as far as to describe it as among the tabloid’s “best”.

News Limited insiders in the audience that night described the speech as “stunning”, “perplexing” and somewhat “full of itself”.

“It was all very odd,” says one News Limited executive in attendance.

“Here was Boris boasting about a campaign which had nothing to do with the award he was given and it wasn’t even a successful campaign… and the way you know that is no-one else in the network (of tabloids) touched it.”

Outside of News Limited, media and marketing experts remain divided about the impact the Telegraph’s campaign has had on Twitter’s brand in Australia. However they agree that the newspaper was instrumental in elevating the issue of cyberbullying. “From a government relations point of view, the ‘Stop The Trolls’ campaign was quite successful in that it understood how to get it on the government’s agenda,” says Karalee Evans, senior director with public relations agency Text 100 and one of the leading critics of the Telegraph’s campaign. “There’s nothing more powerful than a mainstream media outlet pressuring the government to take notice of an issue with front page after front page,” adds Evans.

The Telegraph began its campaign against Twitter trolls in early September enlisting celebrities including TV personality Charlotte Dawson and NRL footballer Robbie Farrah as ambassadors after they personally became victims of trolling.

“Ever since I’ve been on Twitter I’m just someone who attracts a lot of hatred,” says Dawson. “I don’t why. I think (the campaign) was a success. Obviously the Fairfax press bagged it out and that sort of thing, just in the spirit of media competition. But anything big or small that tries to draw attention to the issue of cyberbullying is really important.”

Indeed, the campaign quickly became controversial with many in the Twittersphere and technology world pouring scorn on it.

Leading Australian technology website Gizmodo noted how in internet parlance, a troll is someone who posts deliberately provocative messages to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing disruption and argument.

The website’s editor, Luke Hopewell, wrote at the time: “By this definition, the Daily Telegraph is the biggest troll of all.

“The Telegraph has gone into its 840,000-strong newsgroup and purposefully disrupted the national discussion away from important issues… and shifted the agenda on to issues of trivial importance.”

Dawson rejects this interpretation and says she admires the Telegraph’s decision to persevere with the campaign despite much criticism. She says:  “The thing I thought was great was that they continued to bring it up rather than just letting it go. Even when other areas of the media were harassing them and making that stupid hypocrisy argument, you know… you do this and therefore you shouldn’t talk about (trolling).”

Fast forward four months from Paul Whittaker’s speech at the News Awards to the Yates Avenue Public School in Sydney’s west where Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a speech at the launch of Cyberwise, an initiative to combat cyberbullying. In the speech she specifically singled out Twitter for turning a blind eye to ‘trolling’.

“We need to see Twitter also agreeing to use these protocols and guidelines because it is on Twitter that so much of the damage has been done by trolls,” Gillard told the crowd. Marketing expert Barry Urquhart says this constant batting by the media and politicians has hurt public perceptions of the social media platform. “I think it has hurt Twitter. A lot of people don’t know how to use the medium and are now fearful of it,” says Urquhart, managing director of Marketing Focus, a Perth- based agency.

“In a marketing strategy they’ve launched it and now what they are trying to do in a marketing warfare context is broaden their sales pitch and broaden who is using the platform,“ adds Urquhart.

Evans agrees and says Twitter is suffering from a brand perspective. “If you look at the potential market that Twitter needs to capture to
get penetration and growth, that’s the market that is reading the Daily Telegraph, watching The Project and engaged in the mainstream media and all you are hearing is that it is this troll playground.”

Encore’s sister publication Mumbrella last week reported how senior executives from Twitter were in Australia for a second round
of high-level ‘meet and greets’ before the opening of the brand’s Australian office later this year.

Brand expert Jules Hall from Sydney ad agency The Hallway says that although the brand will recover, he would advise Twitter to actively counter the negative messages in the media.

“They need someone to deal with The Daily Telegraph,” says Hall. “At the moment, that story is being hijacked by negative publicity and
so they have to find a way to get back on the front foot. What they really need to do is to reinforce the positive role that Twitter plays in helping users to tell their story.”

Text 100’s Evans says Twitter’s priority has to be public relations. “When they come here they definitely have to prioritise public relations and launch with fanfare because they are going to need to do a rebrand,” she says.

“They are going to need to address what the mainstream media has essentially owned as being the Twitter brand up until now.”

This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.




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