By Prakash Patel, CEO, Prezence Digital

Prezence Digital

You may now all have heard about the recent Jessica Leandra saga, what interests me is how people don’t know the true power of social media when either #Twitte-r-anting or #Twitte-r-aving their views (thank fully ­ it showed us a different side to her and not looking so pretty now).
Twitter is one of the phenomenons of the 21st centuries along with Facebook. It is a phenomenal tool for communicating with your fans and growing your customer/fan base.

However, if not done properly it is also the most powerful tool in how to kill your brand. People don’t only pick up positive comment but more so negative comments as in the case of Jessica. Using social media is not just about how to use it, but more importantly how not to use it.
It all started when Jessica posted a racist tweet on the popular social networking site Twitter “Just, well took on an arrogant and disrespectful K***** inside Spar. Should have pinched him, should have.” Within minutes the tweet went viral and posted on numerous website and other social networking sites and asking for her to justify herself. Her response (adding fuel to the fire) by posting another racist comment that read…
“Would you all stop! These are the kind of people that land up raping young girls in our country. I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.”

This created another barrage of angry responses hitting the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 5 May. In response to her actions, editor of FHM Brendon Cooper’ announced she had been stripped of her title as winner of the FHM Modelbook 2011 with immediate effect. This was then followed by QuickTrim, who also dropped her as their spokesman, citing her tweets and then finally an announcement by `Little Eden’, an organisation for mentally disabled children and adults made a statement that they want nothing to do with her and in fact had never appointed her as an ambassador.
Amongst the responses by angry people, was another person who also vetted a racist comment, Tshidi Thamana who tweeted, “Dear Mr Peter Mokaba. I wish all whites had been killed when you sang `Kill the Boer’, then we wouldn’t have to experience @JessicaLeandra’s racism. Both models have since removed their tweets and apologised for their remarks. A little too much too late in most people eyes or views.

Before the Digital Age, people were always warned to `think before you write’ to now `think before you tweet’. The phrase `Word of Mouth’ has truly been replaced with `Word of Click` and now `Word of Tweet’.
Even though it has been reported that Jessica’s Tweeter base has grown by over 2 000 followers since this incident, it is important to remember that just because people started to follow her doesn’t mean they agree with her views and in fact probably were just intrigued by the news of her tweets and hoping to follow her response ­ like a pack of journalist behind a hot topic.
Lessons Learnt So, what are the five top lessons learnt (above the fact that no one should have to tolerate racism) from a digital and social media perspective?

1. Twitter Is Public

What makes Twitter so powerful is that Twitter is public and messages (or tweets) and links caneasily be re-tweeted or passed on virally to other users, asin the case of Jessica ­ her tweets went viral within hoursand even spread internationally. Now if you go onto anysearch engine. The first thing that comes up now is theracist Jessica. In digital speak; we call this Search EngineResults Pages (SERP). There are a number of things Jessicacan do to change this (SERP ORM Failure), but will takesome time and planning.
2. Your Twitter Account is an extension of you

Social media is a platform that allows individuals and brand tovoice their values and connect with followers and fans (ornot) in an open and transparent way. What you say (ortweet) is an extension of your brand. Therefore, when youtweet without thinking the damage is done. You always haveto remember that people from different backgrounds andwith different beliefs are following you, so you needmaintain a professional and healthy balance.

3. Twitter library timeline

Your tweets are like a library of your tweets for all to see (unlessremoved) and in fact in her case evidence was found byTwitter’s who scanned her tweets that this wasn’t the firsttime. Earlier this year she tweeted: “Highlight of myweekend? Almost punching an Engen petrol assistant. Notolerance for rude African monkeys whatsoever!”

4. Don’t get too personal. Distinguish you fromyour brand

When a brand is a person, it is important to rememberunlike corporate brands, most celebrities don’t have apolicy in how to engage with social media. So, it isimportant to think before you tweet, especially if it iscontroversial (or damn right racist view). At the end ofthe day, it is an extension of your brand and who you are.

In Jessica’s case, she opened up the can of worms bymaking her personal view public vs. being professionaland is now labelled as a racist.

5. Handling negative comments properly

When the first barrage of comments came back about beingracist, the biggest mistake Jessica made was posting anothercontroversial tweet. Handling criticism and negativecomments properly is a must. Don’t ever get overly sensitive,defensive and definitely don’t resort to `name calling’ (or inJessica case ­ adding fuel to the fire).
Final Words We all make mistakes (its harder to forget than forgive) so youare forgiven Jessica, but remember as much as social mediahelps build brands and celebrities, that once you clicksubmit you are no longer in control of the message ortweet you have sent. It is so powerful that it can also killyour brand. So `think before you tweet’. You may have justkilled your brand.


-This article first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Advantage.



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