IT’S always nice to see someone get eviscerated by an online lynch mob, unless, of course, you’re on the receiving end of the mob.
Last week in Victoria social media experts Ellis Jones gave an absolute masterclass in world’s worst practice in their chosen field. This went so badly it will be taught around the world for generations.
As anyone who’s run a public meeting of any size knows, it’s very important to keep control of who has the microphone.
When the Victorian Taxi Association engaged Ellis Jones to start a “@yourtaxi” Twitter conversation it should not have taken a genius to predict the river of vomit they would soon find themselves swimming in.
Offering some free rides to members of the public who “shared a story” it began with vapid enthusiasm:
“Tell your taxi story! #YourTaxis #PeopleOfMelbourne #TaxiYourWay #Melbourne”
The problem, redolent with the wisdom of hindsight, is that when the ideal taxi journey is utterly unremarkable, the only stories left to tell are going to be negative.
In my experience something like 99 per cent of taxi drivers have been okay, which makes them probably a better group of people than an average sample of humanity.
But ask me to tell a story and it’s going to be about the 1 per cent.
Having moderated tens of thousands of internet conversations, the first thing I stress when asked is “do not encourage negativity on the internet”. There’s going to be plenty of negativity no matter what you do.
It’s normal for ad agencies to tell their clients what they want to hear. No doubt this happened here with Ellis Jones telling the Victorian Taxi Association they were going to get lots of heart-warming stories about their lovely taxi drivers.
Normally these social media campaigns disappear without a trace and a bunch of garbage “reach” metrics are trotted out to make it look vaguely like a success.
They bear some resemblance to the old “Potential TV Audience” we’d hear about at major sporting events.
It might be true that if everyone in the US is up at 4am and tuned into ESPN8, then 300 million people are watching. More likely no-one is watching at all.
If someone off the street had tried to gather taxi horror stories it would have been another unremarkable corner of the internet, but in this process the taxis themselves created a central dumping ground of awful narrative about their own operation.
Things got worse when they tried to tie driving veterans to medical services (for a fee) in with “Rememberance [sic] Day”.
This lead to hapless public blithering for mercy: “We are trying so hard to get this right and we’re so sorry for our mistakes today. We think there is hope.”
Finally, last Thursday the Taxi Association came to its senses: “We take full responsibility for the campaign and will be undertaking a full review of our strategy,” said VTA CEO David Samuel.
“As a result we have made the decision to part ways with our agency.”
Uber could not have asked for a better free kick, delivered by their rivals, at those rivals’ own expense.
The previous world record for a social media disaster was the singer Susan Boyle’s people trying to get fans excited for her album launch with “#Susanalbumparty”.
Even that, at least, would have helped get word out of a new album, after the tears of laughter dried.