New Technology But The Same Rules Apply

Hidden Eloise and Paperchase images

Mark Sowerby is a Partner at Brookes & Sowerby, a PR and Brand Development Agency with a large range of blue chip clients across the UK. Here he takes a look at what we can learn from the recent communication challenges Paperchase faced on Twitter.

Earlier this month, an independent artist known as "Hidden Eloise" believed that Paperchase had stolen one of her designs and used it on items sold across its 100 UK stores. After posting details of this on Twitter and claiming that her concerns were being ignored by Paperchase, the story quickly exploded into one of the most popular on the network.

This posed a real public relations challenge for Paperchase. As the car crash unfolded, the ‘moberati’ started baying for blood and the few objective voices of reason were drowned out as Paperchase’s silence was taken to be an admission of guilt. Even some of those claiming to be contacting Paperchase by traditional means said that they were getting through to voicemail.

In an attempt to help with damage limitation, a Tech PR person registered @paperchaseuk. He, along with numerous other people, was actively trying to contact Paperchase and involve them in dialogue but it didn’t appear that the company had any channels to deal with this kind of digital crisis management.

By late afternoon Paperchase had set up @FromPaperchase and were trying to get a grip of the situation with the release of a statement – effectively confirming that the company had done all it had been legally required to do. A handful of followers retweeted this but, sadly, it was not enough of an explanation for the baying mob and didn’t have the ‘personal’ feel they demanded. 

Over the next hours and days the statement was amended to include the name of the design agency and designer involved, expanding on the explanation until a more personal statement was released admitting guilt and proving that a thorough investigation had been done. Ironically, contrary to the opinion of the mob, Paperchase and Hidden Elouise turned out to be the victims of another independent artist.

So what can we learn from this?

Well, there were probably two main question marks surrounding the Paperchase strategy:

1.    No one was listening.

2.    When they eventually took action, the tone wasn’t wholly appropriate for the audience.

That’s not to say that the incident could have been completely avoided if both of the above had been addressed but it probably could have been better contained. In addition, Paperchase may have been able to maximise the fact that it had a significant volume of traffic to its website.

No matter what company you work for or industry you are involved with, this incident underlines the need to be clear about who and where your customers are and then decide how best to use your time, finances and resources to engage with them – even if it’s just making sure that at a basic level you listen to what is being said and are prepared to respond.

Public relations has always been about consistent communication with customers. The age old saying that PR is not just a tap to be turned on and off has never been more true than today. The time to listen and engage is now, people are talking about your brand more than ever - and you'd be surprised how much damage can be done in 140 characters or less.