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Panic attack: social media gurus' take on Auckland Transport's Twitter bullying fiasco

Auckland Council's transport arm has rather wrecked my theme for this blog, which was to relay advice on what to do next to solve its Twitter bullying social media crisis.

Earlier today, Auckland Transport said it had let go a contractor responsible for the fiasco. The contractor reacted to a complaint tweet about parking costs from senior Tara Sutherland (who happens to be a senor Telecom staffer) by complaining to her employer - even though the tweet had nothing to do with her work, and she does not promote herself as a Telecom manager on her Twitter account.

But anyhow, for the record here's what they said. And there are still some useful advice in there for how Tara's original tweet should have been handled, and how to stop a similar incident happening again:

Vaughn Davis, The Goat Farm:

It seems to me that the Auckland Transport Twitter person was trying to do the right thing by passing on Tara's concern, it just got a bit out of hand after that. The general principle most companies follow these days is to "fight social media fire with social media water," rather than kick things up the chain. People with complaints are a gift – they often tell you more about your brand than your happy customers ever will. Engaging with them publicly via Twitter will often not just solve their problem but help other less vocal people facing the same issue.

What should they do now? Look up "What the world needs now is love sweet love," on YouTube, put some headphones on, and enjoy. It always works for me, anyway (-:

Justin Flitter, Flitter:

Sounds like someone at the council panicked and their brain exploded

Tara has highlighted Aucklanders frustration and utter dismay with parking costs in Auckland City Council parking facilities. That issue needs to be constructively addressed
The issue has nothing what so ever to do with Tara's employer. It's a cheap shot and totally unprofessional.

Quite obviously someone breached protocol as the community manager/moderator expressed in their tweets.  That does not help anyone.

The honesty from the community manager was appropriate and probably helped diffuse the situation somewhat.

Simply the council needs to come out and explain their pricing policy and why prices fluctuate during the day. Honesty and transparency are critical in todays social world. People will simply not take no-comment for an answer. They need to engage people in a wider discussion so they achieve a balance that everyone is as happy with as possible. This is a great chance for the Council to show they are listening and want to hear feedback that ultimately ties back in to their day to day planning. 

John Lai, SMNZ:

Personally, I think Auckland Transport is good at engagement with people - especially considering how much angst is thrown at them on their twitter feed. Whoever the moderator is, they're doing an amazing job.

I think this issue is a good example of what happens when parts of an organisation don't get the need to be transparent or follow an agreed process when it comes to social.

Auckland Transport should have acknowledged Tara's frustration, forwarded her complaint onto the appropriate people and, ideally, followed up with some kind of solution.

Moving forward from here, the whole organisation needs to be reminded or realigned around the organisation's social media policy and some real consequences put in place for those who ignore it so they don't get renegade individuals acting in a way that undermines the social relationship.

In terms of how they communicate externally with people they have been doing well, so nothing needs to change there.

As far an internal communication goes, well clearly there's a bit of work to be done.

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Comments and questions

Justin gets closest to a sensible answer to this as he at least recognises that it was indefensible for the jobsworth to find out who Tara's employer was and go running to them.

This was the most appalling and abusive behaviour by he ACC employee who presumably hoped Teelcom would punish or reprimand Tara for daring to criticise them. That is the real issue not whether the Council should engage in meaningful, culturally appropriate and inclusive feelgood twittering with a "stakeholder".

The REAL moral of the story is don't mess with Tara, she kicks a$$.

Is all this some sort of Twitter marketing campaign?

Neither AT or Telecom need the distraction.
That said, with the convergence of social media channels it's not exactly difficult to 'find' anyone's identity. How you use it is key.
Interesting that the name of the ACC 'contractor' hasn't been revealed (yet) and speaks volumes for those impacted by the debacle as much as it did for the errant tweeter in the first place..
Be careful out there!