The Streisand Effect quantified

Yesterday, Digiday released an article stating that brands should not apologize on Social Media. The story made me curious since it refers to the reaction of US Airways apologizing after deleting a tweet with pornographic material. I made some research about the reach caused by the deletion of the tweet before the excuse of US Airways was made. In this way I wanted to seperate the effect caused by the deletion of the tweet from the one of the apology. I combined these figures with some thoughts if and how apologies on social media can be helpful. This is my result.

Arguments that generally support brand apologies on social media 

The point the article makes is that brands should not apologize too much on social media because

a) “Twitter is an echo chamber”, so apologies draw attention on a previously unseen failure.
b) it shifts the focus away from what the brand wants to accomplish.
c) apologies on Twitter do not feel authentic.

I thought about those points a while and want to say that I disagree. This is why:

Concerning a): Apologies draw attention on a previously unseen failure

The article seeks to prove this point with data on how apologetic different airlines have been in the first quarter of 2014. US Airways is on the second position within this ranking, with an absolute volume of 10.986 Sorry-Tweets. The data stems from the social media analytics company Unmetric. The high number of apologies on Twitter by US Airways is than applied on the echo of their social media failure a few days ago. After US Airways posted a pornographic picture with a toy plane within a general customer service tweet, they quickly deleted it and posted an apology one hour later. Rick Liebling, head of global marketing at social media analytics company Unmetric says on Digiday: “With the apology, literally thousands of people who would not otherwise have known about it saw the retweets and, at that point, possibly became curious and looked for more information about the issue.”

Please do not underestimate the Streisand effect

This might be even right. But the story generated a lot of reach even before the apology was tweeted. At first Buzzfeed (3:27 PM) and Business Insider (3:28 PM) reported the story. Screenshots of the deleted original went viral around the world, other media portals like Mashable (3:48 PM, see the Tweet below) and Adweek (4:12 PM) jumped onto the story. After this (!) US Airways made an official apology on Twitter (4:26 PM) and Business Insider (4:56 PM). This phenomenon is an example for the Streisand Effect, referring to “an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information which has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.”

Mashable, Buzzfeed, Business Insider and Adweek have significantly more followers on Twitter ( 3.950.000 + 881.000 + 519.000 + 241.000 = 5.591.000)  than US Airways does (429.000). Even if US Airways would not have posted an apology, these media portals would have drawn more attention on this critical tweet than the airline ever could. The buzz was already exploding on Twitter. US Airways had no other option than to apologize in order to curtail it. And additionally: If apologies are likely to induce heavy reactions in social media, I am thinking about the question why all the 10.985 Sorry-Tweets before the critical tweet did not arouse a Twitter uproar?

Concerning b): it shifts the focus away from what the brand wants to accomplish.

Another question comes to my head: Do brands want to achieve Customer Satisfaction. In general I would say yes. What would you say?

Concerning c): apologies on Twitter do not feel authentic.

This is an argument by DigitasLBi’s director of social and content strategy, Jill Sherman.

First point: If apologies on Twitter do not feel authentic, is it impossible to make them do so? There are a lot of video tools to generate more personality. Picture, voice and facial expressions can express more compassion than text does.

Second point: I ask myself if tweets really generally lack authenticity. I assume People asking for help or at least an apology on Twitter value replies on Twitter as much as their own tweets. What do you think?

In a nutshell:

I want to encourage brands to use social media as a tool to apologize to your target group. If you know you did something wrong, this is an excellent opportunity to make up for it. Social media is about communication at eye level, not about covering issues up.