Obama chair Twitter response shows the most crucial part of social media management, making technology human and responsive.

Posted by on Sep 4, 2012

Already launching a series of memes, the Clint Eastwood chair sketch is turning out to be the most memorable part of last week’s Republican National Convention. It is the sketch where Clint Eastwood, the famous actor, speaks to an empty chair as a stand-in for Barack Obama, the current president of the United States. Some may have considered it a slam against the president. And it might have been. But it seems a responsive, well-crafted tweet helped turned the tide.

In a bit of Twitter Kung Fu by using an opponent’s energy against themselves, the Obama Campaign staff posted a tweet in response with the president sitting in his seat that says “The President” along with the Twitter sentence: “This seat’s taken.” Twitter reports that this tweet was the biggest tweet of the convention. And the 2nd largest tweet from Barack Obama’s account. What’s more, it helped encourage other tweets and memes to generate momentum to neutralize the chair sketch.

An opportunity that would have been missed without, the right timing (the Obama camp responded within hours) and with the right kind of response (a jovial but re-directing response instead of a robotic policy rebuttal). Social media technology alone can’t accomplish that. For more critical issues or when customer engagement is critical, the people managing your message need to have the people skills to know how to adjust messaging to respond appropriately smartly and effectively. Like a sword. Many people can swing one. The right person who can command it with speed and accuracy turns it into artful weapon.

What happens when you fail to be human? Ask Progressive Insurance. The Progressive campaign Twitter account mechanically responded to a tweet from a disgruntled family member of a killed policyholder with a statement that felt written by their legal team. A cold message about a heart-breaking subject with Flo, their bright happy spokesperson, smiling like a uncaring clueless person alongside the message as the Twitter icon.

The ineffective response blew up in the company’s face and made national headlines. Someone who had more social skills than how to post a 140-word press release could have reached out and said something like, “We’re concerned about providing outstanding service to all our customers, please contact me directly so we can talk.” You may not resolve the problem through any follow up, but at least it looks like Progressive cares. Just knowing how to be human in social media might have preserved millions invested by Progressive in a brand name.

Yes it is technology. But as fancy as it is and as the Obama campaign showed in the Eastwood chair sketch, social media is only the microphone. How you use it still makes the difference.

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