Social Firestorms May Not Be as Alarming as Marketers Fear

Hal Conick
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

What? A social media firestorm may look like a lot of very angry people, but one researcher says its 95% retweets. 

So what? During firestorms, brands seem to ignore the level-headedconsumer who just wants a resolution. 

Now what? Brands may want to look past the angry tweets and see what well-spoken customers are tweeting, even in the most incendiary moments of a social firestorm. 

​March 30, 2017


Think your prospective customers are pissed? You may want to look closer; a recent study finds that the bulk of social media firestorms are retweets. 

 

Nearly all tweets that make up a social media firestorm are retweets, according to a researcher at the AMA’s 2017 Winter Conference. 

Kimberly Legocki, an adjunct professor at California State University, says 95% of social media firestorms are made up of what she calls “raging retweets.” These accounts are quick to retweet or post once, then go away entirely. 

More active consumers during a firestorm are those who want change but do not angrily express their feelings. Legocki says these are people who are very logical and well-spoken but tend to be overlooked by brands who are inundated by angry tweets. After a specific firestorm, these accounts tweet 7.2 times on average. 

“I worked for brands and we never paid attention to that,” she says. “It does look like a firestorm, but people go in just once or twice and then out.”

A firestorm, she says, is related to a sense of outrage that a company has violated a social norm. 

“When we [consumers] tweet [at] a brand, we expect them to respond within an hour,” Legocki says. “Our expectations are changing. … We know that if righteous anger triggers a response, perceived injustice will trigger righteous anger.”

This anger, she says, is what will determine which action is taken by a consumer, including what to post, how often and when.  

Legocki studied 10,000 tweets from four different events–including Wal-Mart selling child-size Israeli soldier costumes and McDonald’s sponsoring school nutrition programs–using indicators of anger, including expressed disgust and the word “f---.” All firestorms had similar beginnings and endings, she says, and all had the same results: mostly angry retweets. 

“If you were really angry we expected you’d take the time and make the investment to create that original content,” she says. “We like to retweet the most salacious information, those really attention-grabbing headlines with outrageous words.”


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Author Bio:

https://auth.ama.org/publishingimages/halheadshotcolorcorr.jpg
Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.
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