What can brands learn from the Twitter bot havoc?

Household brands, universities, healthcare providers, charities, football clubs and government departments were just some of the organisations that found their social media posts taken to task as a perceived PR opportunity turned into a nightmare.

The Gender Pay Gap Bot - @PayGapApp - caused havoc for corporate accounts, causing a flurry of quickly deleted celebratory and promotional International Women’s Day posts.

Every time an organisation posted about International Women’s Day with the #IWD2022 or #BreaktheBias hashtags, the bot automatically retweeted the post with its median gender pay gap, using government figures - companies that employ 250 or more people are required to report data about their gender pay gap by law.

The bot’s Twitter biography said: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I’ll retweet your gender pay gap.”

Clever, yet simple and highly effective. And while it may not have resulted in a crisis media management situation, it was embarrassing for those called out.

My timeline was filled by its posts. One of the worst offenders I saw was Young’s Pubs, where women are paid a median of 73.2 per cent less than men, according to the bot.

Other organisations that found themselves publicly shamed included Capita, Tui Uk, Missguided, the Labour party, and the Department for Environment.

For a few, the bot worked to their advantage. The bot highlighted, for example, that at the London Fire Brigade, women's median hourly pay is 2.7 per cent higher than men's and that at the National Farmer’s Union, women’s median hourly pay is 57.5 per cent higher.

The bot was created by Francesca Lawson, a copywriter and social media manager and Ali Fensome, a software consultant.

Ms Lawson said: “The bot exists in order to empower employees and members of the public to hold these companies to account for their role in perpetuating inequalities.

“It’s no good saying how much you empower women if you have a stinking pay gap.”

Such was the storm created by the bot that its activity caught the attention of mainstream media. Not just here, but also in America – resulting in further reputation bashing for those it called out.

International Women’s Day: bot calls out firms over gender pay gap The Times

Gender Pay Gap Bot Twitter account highlights salary divide of firms that post about International Women’s Day i

Twitter bot brilliantly trolls companies tweeting about International Women’s Day Metro

‘Genius’ Twitter ‘bot’ reveals gender pay gaps of brands celebrating International Women’s Day Independent

Twitter bot highlights gender pay gap one company at a time New York Times

How did brands respond to the bot’s activity and their figures being exposed on social media?

Well, many simply deleted the offending posts - “this Tweet is unavailable” became a much-seen phrase on Twitter.

Others tried to bypass the bot by removing the original post and then reposting without the hashtags or with different ones.

All a little cowardly.

So, Young’s Pubs, which you may recall from earlier in this crisis communication training blog was identified as one of the worst offenders, deserves credit for facing up to being called out.

It issued another post saying that the “gender pay gap figures referred to in the media and social media are very misleading and in no way are a true reflection of the Young’s business and our people.”

A linked statement from the company said the furlough scheme had “distorted” the figures. It said those on the scheme were not considered to be working and had not been included in its Gender Pay Gap report.

It added: “Our figures adjusted for furlough are a more accurate reflection of our business, which shows our median gender pay gap is 5.6% and our mean is 10.9%, substantially better than the national median of 14.9%.”

 

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English Heritage was another organisation that responded to the bot. It said that the figures were based on April 2020 data and that it had been working to close the gap.

“But regardless of its size, a gap is still a gap and the charity is committed to eliminating it,” it added.

What can we learn from this?

It is a reminder that when organisations talk the talk, people expect them to walk the walk.

In other words, people want brands to go beyond nice statements and social media posts to mark awareness days and that turn them into promotional opportunities - not just for International Women’s Day, but for other events like Pride and Black History Month.

They want to see organisations are behaving in the way that they promise with their words. They want to see expectations created through promotional material are met. And they want to see action is being taken on crucial issues.

People are increasingly willing to call out perceived virtue signalling - and, when they do that, it can lead to a reputation hit and put organisations in crisis media management mode.

Find out more about planning for a crisis by downloading your copy of our free eBook.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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