Why Twitter Outrage Can Be Misleading

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With the specter of social media criticism looming over every word a celebrity says and every marketing campaign, using Twitter to market can seem like a minefield. Twitter may seem like a huge network, giving voices to millions of Americans, but according to Civic Science Founder and CEO John Dick, its user base doesn’t represent demographics equally.

Twitter is only used by 20 percent of the U.S. population, and the Twitter user base isn’t representative of the majority of the populace, according to a recent Civic Science study. In fact, it differs from the Twitterverse in a number of key ways. Compared to the non users surveyed, Twitter users are more likely to be under 35, 20 percent more likely to live in an urban area and less likely to have children.

The theory, according to Dick, is that these demographic differences are to blame for the outrage and confusion surrounding comments made by Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson last December. Cracker Barrel pulled Duck Dynasty merchandise after Robertson’s comments in GQ went viral, but only 40 hours later after a different outrage campaign, they reinstated the products.

Cracker Barrel fell into a common trap: “It mistook sentiment of social media’s most vocal users as reflective of broad-based public opinion, which it isn’t,” Dick wrote on AdAge.

When asked directly about Duck Dynasty and Cracker Barrel, Twitter users were seven percent less likely to say they loved or liked the show, six percent less likely to state a love for Cracker Barrel and nine percent more likely to say they were offended by Robertson’s comments.

Between the demographic data and the direct responses, it’s clear that Cracker Barrel was trying to appease the wrong audience. Marketers pay a lot of attention to Twitter and rightly so — it’s a very powerful marketing platform.

However, when reacting to scandal or social media outrage, companies should take a moment to think about which of their audiences they’re trying to please: customers yelling at them via email, or non-customers yelling at them on Twitter.

Photo Credit: mikeyp2000

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