A tweet in time
Communication just keeps getting faster. In October I attended a fascinating conference by Echo Research at which Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand and president of the MRS, talked the audience through those who'd gone up and down her company's 100 "Best Global Brands" list.
One brand which had slid down the list by 11% was Ford — it now stands in 49th position, sandwiched somewhere between Heinz and Zara. Her presentation ended before the coffee break and we all trouped out for refreshments. On our return the MC broke the news that the conference was being "twittered" in real time, and during the 15 minute break Ford had been on the line to him asking why was its brand being disparaged.
Tweets may, according to some commentators, be on the way out but they can still be lethal. Especially when aided and abetted by our daily press. Anyone heard of Trafigura? No? Well, read on. Last month a cryptic viral "seed" appeared in The Guardian.
In a couple of paragraphs it explained that it had been prevented from reporting parliamentary proceedings on legal grounds which appeared to call into question privileges guaranteeing free speech established under the 1688 Bill of Rights.
It turned out to refer to legal firm Carter-Ruck's attempts to stop a story about British oil company Trafigura's alleged pollution cover up in Africa. Within hours some 187,000 twitterers had worked out the identity of the company in question, and by lunchtime Carter-Ruck had thrown in the towel.
All of which goes to show that reputations can be made — and broken — within seconds by a medium whose initials are meant to stand for "Typing What I'm Thinking To Everyone Reading". The danger, of course, is that with a 140-character "tweet", there is a limit to the amount of information that can be conveyed — but boy is it quick.
There are constant predictions, given falling advertising, of the death of traditional media. Yet examples such as the Carter-Ruck one point to a new relationship between traditional and new media. The one feeds off the other, and the outcome can be more immediate and influential news.
It was the popular 19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon (and not Mark Twain) who said: If you want the truth to go round the world you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world it will fly; it is as light as a feather, and a breath will carry it.
In recent times the truth, via twitter, has sped round the world from hotspots like Iran — whereas an express train would be definitely old hat. And as for the future? The latest proposed communication is by thought, via chips inserted in the brain, and apparently we are just years away from it becoming reality. Brands, be very afraid.
This article was first published in InBrief magazine, November 2009
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2009