Jan Moir - the poster girl for social CRM (unfortunately)
Now I get it! For months and months I've listened to CRM vendors telling me how powerful Twitter can be as a customer service tool. I've seen RightNow buy its very own social networking firm; I've listened to Oracle's Anthony Lye talk about his Social CRM vision; and I've heard Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff tell how he shocks sceptical CEOs by getting them to do a search of Twitter for their own companies and watches them blanche when they see the results.
But all of this I've understood on a theoretical and intellectual level. Where I've struggled is to see the real world impact. Oh I know that if you're Stephen Fry and you complain on Twitter about how crap a piece of technology is, then within an hour you'll have an engineer at your front door ready to sort out your technical problem and the vendor's PR problem. That's all good and fine, but if I'm just me then the end result is unlikely to be the same. I'm far more likely to be left twittering into the wilderness.
But the past two weeks have demonstrated the power of Twitter to be a genuinely transformative force on a mass media level with two events illustrating how the wisdom of the crowds can turn into the anger of the crowds very quickly and very, very powerfully. The first was the case of Trafigura and law firm Carter-Ruck's attempts to suppress reporting of an MP's questions in the House of Commons. Carter-Ruck is one of the most powerful and most experienced law firms in the world and are generally regarded as a force to be reckoned with, especially in relation to libel or to reputation management. But trying to stifle the reporting of a democratically elected individual in the very chamber of democracy in the UK was clearly one step too far for the national consciousness.
The second was the appalling case of the Daily Mail's Jan Moir and her wicked column on the death of Stephen Gately. In a tide of barely concealed bigotry, Moir came to her own (erroneous) conclusions about the circumstances of Gately's death (he died of being gay was the underlying message), implied that his family was deluded (a particularly nice touch the day before they buried their son) and in a fantastically offensive piece of leaping to illogical conclusions, managed to assert that somehow this all proved that civil partnerships were to blame.
For many thousands of people, all that could be read into the article was sheer bigoted malice and homophobic intent - and they took to Twitter to let this be known. Moir - clearly taken aback by this - began an all-too-predictable bleat that she hadn't intended any offence (in which case she's a really really lousy journalist as there can be no doubt that her words would have caused offence to many!) and an accusation that she was the target of a "mischievous" and "orchestrated" campaign by activists, most of whom had probably never read the article anyway. In other words, she was the real victim in all this rather than the vindictive old harpy playing to the crowd that she seemed to be.
This 'poor little me' attitude ignored the fact (annoying things, facts!) that the Mail Online saw a 20% increase in hit rates as people did indeed go to the site and read her poisonous little diatribe before expressing their disgust, as well as demonstrating her fundamental ignorance of how social networking actually works. The only element of 'orchestration' that might be seen was The Guardian's Charlie Brooker helpfully posting the details of the Press Complaints Commission where Moir's malignant work is now the most complained about article in UK newspaper history - 21,000 complaints and counting.
What was more interesting was the impact on the advertisers on the Mail website with the likes of Marks and Spencer demanding that their ads be moved away from her viscious piece. Even less savvy firms quickly woke up to the potential brand damage. One blogger tracked the reaction of a packaged holidays firm, noting that their first reaction was to say that it was a matter for the Daily Mail, not the holiday firm. Two hours later and the same firm was issuing a statement reassuring customers that it had asked to be taken off the Moir page on the web site. This was genuinely customer power at its most potent and its most dangerous for companies.
What will now be interesting is to see how much this changes the popular perception of Twitter. We've seen how it can be used. It's a seriously strong customer agitation tool. The power of Twitter has brought a dreadful old bigot to her knees and scared the living daylights out of some top tier brand names. Good work! The only downsides are (a) that the likes of Jan Moir are ever given a public forum to vomit their bile out at the world and (b) every CRM social media presentation for the next six months is going to feature Moir's face staring out at us.