When fashion blogger Blair Hartley flicked through a copy of more! magazine that she’d found lying around at work last Friday, she was disappointed with what she saw. Frustrated to see a number of features centred around the theme of ‘Inside Men’s Minds’ and using what she saw as insulting stereotypes of both men and women, she vented her thoughts on Twitter later that day.
What she didn’t expect to happen, however, was for the magazine to retweet her comments to their followers (numbering well over 11,000), giving them the opportunity to respond to Blair and tell her exactly what they thought of her.
As Blair explains in a post about the debacle on her blog, Blair on a Budget, she objected to:
“…the implications for the self-esteem of the (often impressionable, almost universally young) girls who read it, the creation of a world in which everything boils down to whether men find you attractive or not, in which you should constantly be striving to work out 'what they're thinking' or 'what their drunk talk really means' or 'what's really going on when they're with their mates', where you should constantly be worrying about whether your boyfriend is cheating on you, or whether he's going to, or doing things to stop him from potentially straying.”
She goes on to talk about the tweets she received in reply and comments that this is an interesting, if unprofessional example of how the internet has changed the relationship between publications and their readers in recent years.
When it comes to brands and publications using social media, it's important that members of staff use the company account to interact with fans or readers. So how far should this interaction go? We've all witnessed the public spats between celebrities, bloggers or even our own friends via the internet. When people criticise others publicly, it's bound to happen. But personally addressing someone from the company Twitter account, retweeting comments and thereby encouraging others to get involved? Most people would agree that this is going too far.
Whoever was logged in to the more! account that evening could have responded to Blair directly in a professional manner - perhaps by acknowledging that readers' comments are always taken on board or by asking her how she would make improvements to the magazine's content.
Retweeting her thoughts – complete with a patronising comment - to their followers and responding to readers' subsequent tweets was a bad move. The magazine’s actions have been condemned as 'childish' and 'playground tactics' and although more! has reiterated (via its Facebook page) that a member of staff retweeted Blair’s comments to be ‘open and honest’ about reactions to the magazine, the fact is that its publicising of her remarks encouraged readers to direct a lot of abuse at a blogger who did nothing more than express a personal opinion.
The public are entitled to hold whatever opinion they want about the media. These opinions may not be complimentary, but that's life. The content of women's magazines is a thorny issue at the best of times and on any day you can find countless debates on the subject going on online, so the comments of one blogger are hardly anything out of the ordinary. If all publications responded to every critical remark they saw, they’d never get any other work done.
Social media provides great opportunities for brands to interact and become more in touch with customers and many women's magazines are doing this to great effect. Just look at how the story of Tavi's outsize headgear spread like wildfire and inspired scores of articles – including one by BitchBuzz’s own Cate Sevilla after Grazia magazine tweeted about it just once from Paris Haute Couture week back in January. Other women’s mags like Elle and Red provide excellent examples of how to give good Tweet.
It’s also been proved that reader criticism can result in changes or a positive outcome. In April, Company magazine took note of critics when it published a feature on feminism. The feature included a quiz which many people felt was reliant on outdated, negative stereotypes of feminism and after several tweets to that effect, the quiz was taken down from the magazine's website. And who can forget the Twitter-led backlash against Danny Dyer’s column in Zoo magazine last month?
Furthermore, the staff at many companies personally respond to comments on Twitter and it's entirely possible to do this in a positive way. One example would be ASOS, where employees are known for having personal - but work-related - accounts which give customers a glimpse into their personal tastes and opinions while remaining focused on the industry and promoting the brand.
Publications need to look to the positives of interaction through social networking and utilise it to their full advantage, which might stop people claiming that countless businesses just don't know how to use Twitter 'properly'. Remembering the difference between personal and business Twitter accounts is vital here, because a frustrated rant written on the former can easily turn into a PR disaster on the latter.
This post was originally featured on BitchBuzz.