Rentokil, Ben Goldacre and Twitter

No doubt some of the UK PR community had a wry grin on their faces when they heard that Brands2Life had been called out by popular pointer-out of media medical mistruths and general caller of shens, Dr. Ben Goldacre. On Friday Goldacre picked up on a story that had appeared in the Mail, Telegraph and Standard about just how many creepy crawlies we share our daily commute with. The company behind this obviously PR driven piece was RentoKil, and it had apparently found, after spraying the inside of a tube carriage and bus with insectide and counting the dead ‘uns, many many iccky things that we’d rather didn’t share our travel space – nice.

Goldacre, like some of the initial reports, questioned how Rentokill came up those figures, and being a savvy sort followed up his unanswered media request via Twitter, where it appears to have been duly ignored until late in the day.  A clarification of how the figures were arrived and apology was eventually posted on the Rentokil blog on Friday night, well over a week since the initial press release was distributed.

This post is not an autopsy into who did what wrong, rather the reading the various tweets and associated blogs posts raised a question with wider implications. While he waited for his questions to be answered, Goldacre flagged that Rentokil’s twitter strategy seemed to be a bit askance, and pointed his readers to a Rentokil post reassuring people that it had recently started to follow in Twitter as to why it had started to follow them on Twitter. Some of the commenter’s on the post seem to feel quite strongly that they don’t like the idea of being followed by a company and consider it to be spam. One even said that if @rentokil were to follow them it would block it and report it for spanning.

Now spam to most people means receiving messages or information that you haven’t requested. If a company follows you on Twitter, then that’s not necessarily going to happen unless you follow them back, and then it’s not spam, it’s bacon.Of course they could @  you with all sorts of spammy-badness but they don’t need to follow you to do so.

To be honest I am a little confused about the overreaction but perhaps it’s an indication of Twitter users becoming more savvy and protective about their Twittering space.  What is interesting is that this reaction came about after RentoKil decided to:

move outside of the field of pest control and find experts in other fields including social media, websites, PR, facilities management, I.T., etc. and others who are not experts but who just seem to enjoy using Twitter (there are still quite a few of us that do – despite the 109 million hits on Google which state Twitter is dead!)

A strategy to which only one, one-word, question can be asked – why? Twitter is great for building audiences and engaging with interested parties, (NB. emphasis on the interested there). Following people, no matter what their expertise is, who are outside of your field of interest is always going to a look a bit, well a bit like you’re hoping that they will follow you back and increase your own popularity and influence. Which while not technically spam is very off behaviour in this more personalised world of social media. It is entirely possible that it’s not the case, but you have to wonder what the overarching objective is to be supported by a tactic of following lots of random people, or if RentoKil, like many companies are mixing up the success of a tactic with the success of the strategy.

Also posted on Clicking & Screaming

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