What can big companies like LA Fitness learn from footballer Joey Barton?

In an opinion piece in The Times this week, QPR captain Joey Barton has told how he has been able to counter negative ‘traditional media’ articles about him (ie the tabloid press) by getting his own point of view across via Twitter. The footballer admits to various ‘crimes and misdemeanours’, but argues that anything he said or did was given an angle to fit in with the bad-boy image. “The only quotes that made it into print were those chosen to stir controversy.” So he set up a Twitter account, gaining 60,000 followers within two days, with the current number above a million. Now he can say what he likes, with no middleman.

Would that companies could get their act together in this way. Gym chain LA Fitness has faced negative publicity in recent days, over highly restrictive membership contracts that people are unable to get out of even when their circumstances change dramatically. This culminated in a Guardian story about a couple who were being held to a two-year contract they could not afford, even when she became pregnant, he lost his job and they were about to move away. A storm of negative Twitter publicity followed, which the company seemed unable to counter effectively, initially saying ‘we do not comment on individual cases’ before changing its mind and backing down. By this time lots of people had vowed never to pay money to the chain again. The ‘Twitterstorm’ had almost become the story itself.

many consumer-facing companies could do much more to build up a following
In cases like this, companies need effective social media monitoring in place.  They should use their Twitter presence much more positively, correcting any inaccuracies in news articles, and putting their side of the story. Of course, it’s easy for a famous footballer to get a million followers, but many consumer-facing companies could do much more to build up a following by giving special offers, deals, competitions and so on to build a community and goodwill. Then, the direct conduit to speak to your tribe is there and ready if needed.