Social media training: The social media lessons you can learn from this TV dispute

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The social media lessons you can learn from this TV dispute

It is not often you see two companies rowing in public.

But Virgin Media and UKTV have been involved in a pretty remarkable war of words recently over a rights dispute which has left around four million customers unable to access some of their favourite channels.

Virgin claims that UKTV is unable to provide on-demand broadcasting of the kind ‘expected of a modern day broadcaster’.

UKTV, on the other hand, says it ‘just can’t accept’ Virgin’s price cuts.

It has all got pretty messy and it is not for us to say who is winning the attritional battle.

But one thing that caught our eye, while we’ve been unable to watch the likes of Gold and Dave, has been the way the two companies have communicated with their customers on social media during the dispute.

First up, let’s take a look at Virgin.

Not surprisingly the company has been using its accounts to get its side of the story across to its customers and present UKTV as the bad guys.

It has been using the hashtag #SaveDave and has been pleading publically with the company to resolve the dispute.



But it is in the responses to the tweets from its customers that the real interest lies.

If you take a look at its Twitter responses you will see the same few messages repeated over and over again.

“We are still talking to UKTV and have offered to restore UKTV’s free channels for our customers immediately with their permission. We’re ready when they are” and “We are still in discussions with UKTV but we have already invested in an extensive collection of new and high-quality programming for you to enjoy” appear to have been on a loop.



While it is admirable that they have tried to respond to every tweet the ctrl c and ctrl v keys must be worn out.

At times, they have stuck so steadfastly to their pre-approved lines that the response bears little or no resemblance to the question they have been asked.

Virgin is not the first company to fall into the copy and paste trap during times of high social media demand.

Not only does this approach appear robotic and bland but it also does not give the impression that they really care about their customers.




On our social media training courses we discuss the importance of organisations giving their social media teams the freedom and flexibility to respond more individually, with a less corporate robotic tone.    

While it may sound risky to allow social media teams to move away from pre-approved lines during a time of high demand – or crisis media management incidents - customers greatly prefer the human touch.

If an organisation is not comfortable with that approach, it should abandon the idea of trying to reply to every tweet and instead concentrate on putting out more regular updates.

And this brings us nicely on to how UKTV has handled the dispute on social media.

In some ways it has adopted a similar approach to its rival, urging disgruntled viewers to get in touch with Virgin and making it clear where its channels can still be viewed. 

But its interactions with customers have been completely different. Here are a couple of examples:

‘Thank you so much for your support Amanda, we really do appreciate the kind words we’ve received from our customers through all of this'

'Hi Matt, Virgin want us to pay a distribution fee to be on their platform, and to give our channels to them for free. We totally understand it is frustrating and we’re sorry it’s not been resolved.'

Here are a few more examples:



Instantly it feels different to Virgin’s approach. There is a conversational tone and you feel that questions have been answered. You get the impression there is a human behind the tweets.

If it is doing any copying and pasting, it is doing it sparingly.

The other thing I liked about its social media is that it has used it to make general manager Steve North visible with videos of him updating viewers and making his company’s position very clear.




We’ve no idea whether Gold, Dave and co will be returning to our channels any time soon, but we do know who is winning the social media PR battle.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 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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