In this blog’s first guest post, Ian Watt, e-Government Manager at Aberdeen City Council tells the tale of a hastily deleted tweet and why riding the wave of a cheeky trending hashtag is a good thing.
On Thursday 24th January 2013 in the early afternoon the first tweet with the hashtag #sandwichvan was published. Use of the hashtag exploded in and around Aberdeen after a woman in the area accidentally forwarded a (sometimes intimate) email conversation between her and her boyfriend to her work mates. The final email in the chain ended with, ‘The sandwich van is here. xx’, a genuine message to her work mates and inadvertently attached to the conversation with her boyfriend, which was published on Twitter and what followed was #sandwichvan trending in the local area.
@aberdeencc’s use of #sandwichvan
By early afternoon, there were around 260 tweets using #sandwichvan and I wondered how @aberdeencc could leverage the activity and use it to get a message out about gritting information on our website. After attempting to discuss it with a colleague I tweeted the following:
Whether you drive a #bus #car or #sandwichvan in Aberdeen you’ll find useful gritting + snow clearing info here: http://bit.ly/WMYGfj
We immediately had an enormous response- between 70 and 100 retweets– which is far higher than we’d achieved normally in such a short space of time. We’d managed to use a current trend to push out some useful council information.
What happened next
I logged into Sprout Social, our social media monitoring tool, to see how fast the message was spreading and to share the good news with a colleague only to discover I couldn’t find the retweets or our original tweet. It dawned on me someone had deleted our tweet and Twitter being Twitter, all the retweets went too. I soon established a manager who is unfamiliar with social media and works in another area of the council got nervous about the tweet we’d sent out using #sandwichvan and made a lone decision to delete it. To be clear, our tweet did not mention individuals concerned with the email chain that kicked off the #sandwichvan trend nor did we refer to subject matter. We simply leveraged the activity of others to get our message out.
Comment, feedback or criticism
If I understand the position of the manager who ordered the deletion, we’d attracted adverse criticism for our using the hashtag in this way but I can’t find much evidence to support this claim. Certainly we got noticed – the 70+ retweets was testament to that – but we also got other feedback. This is, I believe, is all of it:
And after the Tweet disappeared:
To which another user replied:
There was also one tweet which alleged we were trying to hide our #sandwichvan tweet and which included a screenshot of our original. We had one identifiable complaint:
To which the reply came:
It has also apparently been suggested by the manager who ordered the deletion of the tweet that Twitter was saying that Aberdeen City Council were doing no work. The only tweet that I can find which might be misinterpreted as that was this one which makes no mention of the council and was not a reply to our tweet :
The positive endorsement – and the own goal
It was particularly gratifying to get a tweet from Craig McGill, a respected authority on the use of social media:
He then updated his blog to mention it. It was equally disappointing to see, when the tweet was pulled without comment, this reponse from @BillyTheKid, a regular commenter on Aberdeen on Twitter:
This very much sums up what happened. We were using Twitter in a very normal way as far as our audience were concerned: not corporately, not in a staid manner, not as faceless bureaucrats, but joining in with what was happening in the moment, and using that to spread the important stuff about gritting and roads. That is to say information that is traditionally hard to get noticed.
This time we did get it noticed – but how much we will never know. Along with the disappearing tweet went our stats – and any chance of measuring our reach. We also don’t know how long we would have continued to be popular as a retweeted post – and how many it could have reached. By Friday morning there were almost 2,000 tweets with the hashtag.
Given that the local and national press (including the Daily Mail and Dail Express ) picked up on the story on Friday and referred to the hashtag, we missed other exposure of our message too, as would have been returned as a result of someone searching after reading those articles too.
The deleting of the tweet
There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the tweet. Even if there had been, then deleting it would not necessarily have been the best course. It would have been better to leave it and weather the short storm and if necessary issue a second tweet to clarify the position. There are many supportive opinions on this:
If you say something you regret, you cannot delete that tweet. You can’t just erase history if you said something. You need to go and correct yourself. You can clarify but you shouldn’t delete that tweet because there deserves to be a record of that out there. Own your mistakes and be transparent. – Liz Heron, former Social Media Lead for New York Times, Washington Post and now the Wallstreet Journal
Deleted tweets …. smell like a cover-up and often make you look suspicious.– Oliver Reichenstein
Why you shouldn’t delete a tweet
1. It’s already out there. You’re hoping nobody saw the tweet, but people did. When you delete it, they will notice.
2. It makes it look like you made a mistake….. If you made a mistake, it will look like you’re trying to hide it. Which won’t work (see number 1).
3. It confuses your audience.
Here’s what [you should do] Leave the tweet. It’s already out there. People have seen it and you can’t undo it. […Issue ] another tweet with details to explain the two seemingly opposite updates. –Curious On The Road: Diaries of a digital journalist
This whole episode raises several issues but also presents the opportunity for us to get better.
Included in this are:
- raising awareness of social media (and how to use it appropriately),
- steering away from “corporateness” to embrace the language, practices and currency of Twitter
- holding our nerve and not revert to knee-jerk responses, and
- revising guidance, and establishing clear authority to be consulted when decisions need to be taken.