Using Twitter (and Liz Jones) for Good, Not Evil

The Liz Jones in Somalia Twitter feed is a brilliant example of the immediacy of the medium and its unique marketing and messaging possibilities. It’s also damn funny.

Liz Jones, for those who have managed to avoid the British rag the Daily Mail, is a columnist best known for her almost mind-boggling self-absorption. (This blog tallies just a few examples.) Several months after writing ad nauseum about her severe financial straits, which she admits are due largely to her insistence on buying designer garb, exotic vacations, and gourmet treats she can't afford, she penned a detailed account of her £13,145 facelift. Her weekday column is appropriately titled “Liz Jones Moans,” and among her targets are parents who take photos of their offspring, people who use laptops on trains, working women who decide to have children, barbecues, women who can’t afford to hire a cleaner but fail to maintain a spotless home, public transit, and women who fail to sport flattering hairstyles.

To put her in perspective for New Yorkers, she makes the New York Post’s Andrea Peyser look like a font of empathy and human kindness.   

So when the Daily Mail opted to send Jones (“I drive a BMW and never use public transport. I always have the central heating on full and walk around in a T-shirt. I frequently order films on Sky Box Office, watch them for five minutes, then change the channel”) to report on the famine in Somalia, outrage predictably ensued. 

Just days after word of Jones’s assignment hit the media, a blogger who frequently takes aim at the Mail under the handle DMReporter launched @LizJonesSomalia and began posting tweets that are a bit over the top for the real Jones (“Awful nights sleep; the sobbing outside my hotel window was so loud. Without my duck-feather duvet I wouldn't have gotten a wink over 8hrs.”), but not by much.

Just five days after its July 31 launch, the feed has more than 7,000 followers. More impressive, it has already raised nearly £10,000 for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s East Africa Crisis Appeal simply by encouraging Jones haters to donate £2 apiece.

Besides being a wonderful example of how to turn lemons (or rather, a sour-as-a-lemon human being) into lemonade, Liz Jones in Somalia shows that an ad hoc campaign implemented in immediate reaction to an event can generate response—and that Twitter is an ideal conduit for this sort of effort. Followers retweet and beget other followers, who in turn spread the word via Facebook, blogs, and other social media as well. DMReporter himself/herself is encouraging cross-pollination by linking to and referencing @LizJonesSomalia in his/her regular feed, Tumbler account, and the like.

It’s also an example of how to latch on to an anger-inducing subject to produce positive results. We tend to skirt around associating ourselves or our brands with anything remotely negative, for good reason: It can be difficult to control the anger away from ourselves and toward our target. But by offering the audience an alternative to the negative—in this case, using the galvanizing power of Jones for good instead of evil—Liz Jones in Somalia provides a catharsis of sorts for its followers. And in exchange for this sense of relief, the followers reward the provider of said relief with goodwill and loyalty.

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