Saying 'Sorry': Corporate Apologies in Twitter


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  • The scale of the audience also influences the kinds of interactions that take place on Twitter. In this analysis I make a broad distinction between: Updates – one to many broadcasts published on the public timeline Addressed Messages – public messages which are directed to named Twitter users (and begin with the @username) – these are distinct from the private DMs which are not included in my analysis (and were not collected) Retweets: updates or messages which have been forwarded without modification by the recipient of the original
  • In 2010, the aggregated distribution of types of tweet show that for all 3 groups, the preferred type of tweet is the update, or the 1-to-many broadcast. However, this preference is more marked for the celebrities and least marked for ordinary twitter users. This difference is perhaps understandable: it is more economic for a celebrity to publish a single update to their sizable fan base than to write individually addressed messages to all of their followers.
  • Red and Blue columns show the frequency of hashtags in updates Green and purple columns show the frequency of hashtags in messages Hashtags occur most often in the updates, and have increased over time (except for ordinary tweeters’ messages – acting less like conversational threads)
  • When we look at the hashtags which occur most frequently in the 2012 dataset, we can identify the following trends: Celebrities use hashtags which foreground their products or performances (Dancing with the Stars, Australia’s got Talent, Late Night Show, The Voice), This is Love / Katy Perry 3D, while corporate accounts use hashtags to foreground company names (EMC, Rubbermaid, Marvel, SelfLondon, Direct), or the topics with which the brands are associated (sales, marketing) or catch phrases (Onthefly and Homeadvantage). Ordinary accounts more often use hashtags to align their tweets with a conversation (often about at TV programme or sports event – bbcqt, xfactor, wimbledon) or about events they are participating in (ales204 = module course code, csmc = cornwall social media cafe). This positions the celebrities and corporations as producers of content, while ordinary accounts are still members of the audience who are consuming a product (allbeit, making their participation in the event more visible).
  • Twitter is not just a sophisticated search engine, it is also a forum for amplifying messages by linking to other content. I’ve argued elsewhere that this returns to the original function of blogging as a means of filtering content by promoting certain websites, and that the kinds of material that people link to reflects their interests (usually their professional interests) and are a means by which they establish their online reputation as ‘recommenders’ or ‘authorities’ in particular fields.
  • I examined 100 links from each of the data sets (randomly selected): 600 links in total. So the trends that I am talking about here are not empirical comparisons of quantity, but more general observations. What we see is that in 2010 the material that celebrities, ordinary accounts and corporations linked to were tightly tied to the professional interest of the member (of course for celebrities, that professional interest is themselves, their products and performances). But in 2012, this has started to be diluted by more ‘personal life’ reflections. So celebrities include more ‘personal life’ photos – although this shades very closely into professional/backstage content (e..g shots of Andy Murray training, Amanda Holden watching the Olympic torch, carrying the olympic torch). For ordinary accounts, some members still link to content almost entirely about their professional identity (e.g. Vicar links to online sermons, debates about legalization of gay marriage etc.; baker to photos of their products or recipes; creative artist to their blog and Facebook group page), but increasingly links were to photos from days out, places visited, and to items of general interest (fashion, gardening, films, food and sport). In 2010, I could have guessed the person’s profession from their links, in 2012, I wasn’t able to do that anymore. Corporations don’t link to personal content, but the content is more personalised in that there were an increased number of links to material provided by customers (e.g. To photos of themselves wearing an item of clothing, eating a type of food etc.) or like Real Carnival Breeze to a ‘fake video diary’ of an imagined customer’s travels, or SouthWest Airlines ‘On the Fly’ videos of their staff engaging with customers in positive and funny ways.
  • This chart shows the relative frequency of modified retweets in the updates posted by Celebrity, ordinary and corporate accounts. As you can see, the frequency of modified retweets decreases in both celebrity and ordinary updates, though much more markedly for the celebrity accounts. At first, I thought this might be because of the ‘quoting’ option that has been added to Twitter. But a search through the updates showed that this was only being used by one or two updaters and then only infrequently. And in the same period, we see modified RTs increasing in the updates from Corporate accounts. It would seem, on the surface of things that celebrity communication on Twitter is becoming less like a conversation, while conversely, corporate accounts in this data sample at least, are using Twitter more than ever to engage with their audiences. NB only 5 occurrences of MTs in the whole dataset. This begs the question: what kind of talk is happening in the addressed public messages? And why might this increase?
  • In 2012, this communicative pattern continues for the Celebrity and Ordinary accounts, but not for the corporations. The pattern reverses here and Addressed messages account for a greater proportion of the posts that are published. This is quite striking, especially if we compare it with the modified retweets that are found in the updates.
  • Saying 'Sorry': Corporate Apologies in Twitter

    1. 1. Saying ‘Sorry’: CorporateApologies Posted to Twitter Dr Ruth Page @ruthtweetpage
    2. 2. Overview• Twitter• Data set• Overview of Corporate ‘talk’• Approaches to apologies• Characteristics of corporate apologies• Applying linguistics
    3. 3. Twitter• Twitter as a public, participatory environment (Jenkins 2006)• Virtual marketplace (Bourdieu 1977)• Driven by the value of attention and visibility (Marwick 2010)
    4. 4. Review of how Twitter is used• Electronic Word of Mouth (Jansen 2009)• 51% of users follow brands/companies (Edison research, 2010)• Corporate and/or personal accounts• Corporate news and/or Customer care
    5. 5. Data set• Data – 177,735 tweets• 100 publically available accounts• 40 companies• 30 celebrities• 30 ‘ordinary’ accounts• Gathered in 2010 and 2012• Focus on c.1200 apologies in detail
    6. 6. Types of Tweet
    7. 7. Distribution of tweet types (2010)
    8. 8. Companies and Updates• Interactions initiated by the company – Pushing information out• Broadcast the brand – Use of Hashtags• Broadcast across platforms – Link analysis• Broadcast conversational snippets – Modified RTs (old style ‘RTs’)
    9. 9. Distribution of Hashtags
    10. 10. Most frequent Hashtags (2012)
    11. 11. Rise of ‘Amplified Talk’
    12. 12. General trends in links• Multimodal – Photos, video• Multi-platformed – Facebook groups, Google plus – Pinterest – Tumblr – Instagram, Daily Booth, VintageCam, Yfrog, Whosay – Mobile Apps
    13. 13. Collapse of professional/personal2010 2012• Ordinary • Ordinary – Articles in their field – Some still reflect professional – Own blogs identity• Corporations – But ‘personal life’ photos and general interests (fashion, – Own web sites gardening, films, food, sport) – Promotional offers • Corporations – Own web sites – Audience engagement through photosharing – Charitable work
    14. 14. Examples
    15. 15. Modified retweets over time
    16. 16. Examples• Thanks, lady! RT @username: I gave @BananaRepublic +K about Fashion on @klout. – Thu, 07 Jun 2012 14:53• We put some out for you! Plus gold disco pants (our newest color!) RT @username: #aalafleamarket help! Want one of those 3D jumpers! – Sat, 22 Oct 2011 21:08:58 +0000
    17. 17. Distribution of tweet types (2012)
    18. 18. Keyness data
    19. 19. Keyness data• @username1 Hi [name], sorry for your frustration. Please follow/DM us additional details regarding this and we can try to help. Thanks. ^SP• @username2 Im sorry about what happened. Please call our Food team on 0845 789 1234 so we can investigate this immediately. Thanks• @username3 Hi [name], very sorry this has happened. Are you able to return it to the store for a full refund? Thanks, [name].
    20. 20. Apologies• Apology as a ‘post event speech act’ (Spencer- Oatey 2008: 19)• Enables future interaction and restoration of equilibrium (Ogiermann 2009: 46)• Need for more work which examines apologies found in – Public domain – Beyond spoken discourse – Naturally occurring in a sizeable corpus
    21. 21. Distribution of ‘sorry/apologise’
    22. 22. Semantic components of an apology• Illocutionary Force Indicating Device (IFID): e.g. We’re really sorry• Taking responsibility: e.g. I made a big mistake • Explanation or account: e.g. Unfortunately we are experiencing weather delays in PHL• Offer of repair: e.g. We’re working hard to refund all original bookings• Promise of forbearance: e.g. I’ll be more careful to avoid plot spoilers in the future
    23. 23. Components which appear infrequently• Taking responsibility• Promise of forbearance• Only once each (in approx 1200 apologies), and both in ‘ordinary’ accounts
    24. 24. Sorry + about what?• Companies avoid • ‘Ordinary’ accounts restating the problem in restate the problem in 66% of their apologies 58% of their apologies• @username Hi, Im • @username Hi, really really sorry about that. sorry that youve been Which store was this at finding holes in your and Ill speak to the loaves. Please give us a Manager about it. call on 0800 636262, [name deleted] option 5. Well investigate.
    25. 25. Sorry + explanation?• 10% of corporate apologies and 27% of ordinary apologies give an explanation• @username Sorry to hear that. The thing is we arent following you. It must be some bot run by someone else• @username Sorry for the ongoing issues caused by the Booking Office closure, there is a staff shortage in the area & were working on it.
    26. 26. Explanations• Deny the offence – @username Sorry you feel that way. Not giving anything away for free. Theyre getting back their own money. Money others didnt find....• Place blame with third party – @username Sorry. Issue with hootsuite! Follow @rubbermaid #rubbermaid• Factors beyond the company’s control – @username We operate a Think 25 policy, if you look under 25 our staff must ask for ID by law. Sorry for any frustration caused
    27. 27. Accepting responsibility• @username Sorry for the ongoing issues caused by the Booking Office closure, there is a staff shortage in the area & were working on it.• @username Sorry. We’re reviewing our affiliate system and by human error deleted you from the programme. Weve replied to your post – Minimise responsibility through nominalisation – Backgrounding agency through adverbials
    28. 28. Offers of repair• 30% of company apologies and 10% of ‘ordinary’ apologies make an offer of repair• @username sorry dude, will get that emailed to you this week! – Male updater Wed, 30 May 2012 15:52• @username sorry [name deleted], only just seen youre reply - next time Im over Ill pop in and say hi : ) – Male updater Sat, 12 May 2012 17:07
    29. 29. Multi-party interactions• @username Sorry to hear, we know our customers look forward to the inflight TV. Youll be getting a $15 credit.• @username Sorry to hear youre disappointed - please take your receipt and any pkg to store for a full refund. Thanks for tweeting• @username Im really sorry you feel that way, were very proud of our staff, our Customer Relations team will certainly investigate.
    30. 30. Questions• 22% of corporate apologies and 13% of ordinary apologies• Clarification – @username Sorry to hear that. Staff are on board the train. Can you advise what the rowdy passengers are doing so I can advise control team?• Offer solutions – @username1 Sorry [name deleted], we have a wide selection of standard sizes in our Autograph range - have you seen these? Thanks
    31. 31. Imperatives• 33% of corporate apologies and none in ordinary apologies• Further contact initiated by company – @username Hey, [name deleted] Sorry for your trouble and well get this fixed quick. Standby for a message from our Customer Relations Team. ^BT• Further contact required by customer – @username @username So sorry to hear this. Please drop us an email to explain what happened to:
    32. 32. Openings and closings• @username Hi [name deleted], am sorry for all the trouble. Im would like to offer assistance. Just follow/DM me tag. Thanks ^AF• @username sorry mate only just checked twitter - had picnic at Earlswood Lakes. Hope you enjoyed dim sum! – Male updater Sun, 06 May 2012 13:13
    33. 33. Comparisons• Signatures: – 37% of apologies by companies – 0 by ordinary accounts• Greetings – 19% of apologies posted by companies – 0 by ordinary accounts
    34. 34. Alternative openings• Discourse markers – 5% of apologies by companies – 15% by ordinary accounts• Emoticons – 5% of apologies by companies – 25% by ordinary accounts
    35. 35. Pragmatics of discourse markers• Associative expressiveness – @username Oh Im sorry :( Ill pass on your disappointment to our buyers.• Upgraders – @username Uh oh! So sorry about the delay. Who could resist a chocolate muffin? Enjoy it! Well have you on your way as soon as we can!• Hedges – @username Ah, sorry, we dont sell the coffee itself.
    36. 36. Emoticons• Intensify negative sentiment – @username Sorry! I hate when that happens to me too :(• Upgrade positive sentiment (Offer of Repair) – @username Sorry! It was an error, should be @£1.19 each or 2 for @£2.00 - already flagged & should be sorted soon :)
    37. 37. More examples• Mitigate negative responses – @username Welcome home! Sorry we cant help you with the lines at the DMV. :)• Promote rapport (especially in line with future interactions) – @username Sorry! I am now following you :) – @username yikes! Im very sorry about that... can you DM me the details? And follow me back :)
    38. 38. Explanation: Apologies and Politeness• Avoid face-threatening damage to reputation – More likely to avoid stating a problem• Mitigate face-threatening damage – Less likely to give an explanation, but when they do, avoid displaying direct agency• Rebuild reputation – More likely to include an offer of repair (do something good)• Attempts at rapport building in fact indicate social distance, not solidarity
    39. 39. Implications• Apologising is an important strategy used frequently by corporations as part of their customer care• Repeated, distinctive patterns suggest a particular genre shaped by the purpose of the interaction and the relationship between participants
    40. 40. Application• Risks for companies regarding how to minimise loss of face but still treat customers individually• Attempts at rapport building may in fact signal social distance• Missed opportunities to close the complaint and restore further positive face