On January 23, the Post
published news about a promotion organized by Italo Treno for those who planned on participating in the “Family Day” in Rome: just by entering the code “FAMILY30” you could get a discount on train tickets. The article started circulating the Web and, in a few hours, went viral on social media, generating contrasting opinions. Italo’s first response came out on January 24 at 10:48 on Facebook (followed by a brief comment on Twitter). In 48 hours, they added two other comments, trying to participate in the conversation, which seemed to be going in a negative direction. In total, there were 3 Facebook posts and 2 tweets from Italo Treno.
Why did this happen? We used social intelligence to find an answer.
How much was this discussed?
The first step towards understanding an issue and deciding how to intervene is defining the context; from January 23 to 26, there were 1,356 posts regarding Italo and “Family Day.” 37% of this content generated at least one interaction, for a total of 29,933 likes, shares, retweets, and comments, coming from 20,205 users that took part in the conversation. (Fig. 1 – Volume)
80% of the content circulated on Facebook, closely followed by Twitter with 14%, blogs with 3%, news sites with 2%, and Instagram with 1% (Fig. 2 – Channels and Daily Performance). The graphic shows the posts’ performance and interactions over time. The news went viral in less than 24 hours, with a high peak on January 24. In 48 hours, it blew off: on January 25 it was 22% less, and kept decreasing until it reached 75% on January 26.
The social virality followed a well-known pattern: the news gets lots of attention in a short timespan and the contrasting opinions disappear quickly, especially on Facebook where reactions are more instinctual and immediate, representing Italy’s “gut feeling.”
…and what are the dynamics?
Comparing the amount of online posts (on SM and the Italo accounts, Fig.3, left column) and those that appeared exclusively on Italo’s account (Fig 3, right column) it’s evident that users and the media interacted in a very active and spontanous manner, especially on Twitter, creating a great amount of original content or posting articles they found on other profiles or newsites (ie. Il Post, Giornalettismo, Costantino della Gherardesca).
If virality was generated initially on Twitter, the interactions were then taken to Facebook (Fig.4) and particularly on Italo’s Fan Page.
Facebook is ratified as the favorite platform for active and viral discussions, and Twitter seemed to be the magnifying platform.
On the other hand, comparing both graphics, it’s clear that the amount of interactions on Italo’s Facebook page corresponds to almost all the interactions in the same platform, sign that users were strongly involved with the declarations and messages posted by Italo, making it the biggest influencer in the discussion.
Being the most influential account during the critical virality affecting the brand’s reputation means holding a privileged position to intervene in the discussion. But when confronting active virality, this position is a double edged sword: it brings more attention from users but requires comments to be carefully and strategically taken care of, because they become a useful tool to contain or exploit the virality (to use for one’s benefit). In a bit, we’ll analyze Italo’s success.
What were the subjects?
The tag cloud with the most used words (Fig.6) confirms the importance of Twitter in the creation of original and polemical content. The hashtags were powerful elements in the discussion: #boycottitalo was the most used term and other hashtags were also present in the majority of posts (#boicottaitalo, #familyday, #italo, #italofail, #italotreno, #svegliaitalia, #unionicivili).
Le posizioni sostenute da utenti e redazioni possono essere raggruppate come segue (fig.7).
- Neutral sentiment content (60,6%): Interventions from news outlets, that inform about the story without taking parts, to which we can add the official Italo posts (that according to our methodology, are considered neutral, even if they come directly from the brand).
- Negative sentiment content (31,9%): Serious critics towards the travel fee and the tone of voice inwhich the company was talking.
- Positive sentiment content (7,5%): Favorable comments supporting the company
The positive feedback came mostly from outside the “official” Social Media channels, while the other accounts were concentrated in the company’s polemic choices. Were the posted messages enough to tone down the conversation? Not really…
How did the company manage online influence?
Italo reacted in the right place and time, but didn’t perform an effective strategy. On the 24th of january at 10.48, they intervened on Facebook with a cold, patronizing comment that deemed agressive towards users.
After a bit, a “condensed” version, in line with this messagem was also published on Twitter (at 11.05 am): “Italo offers conventions if required, for any type of authorized event, without making ideological choices.” Users negative reactions were not delayed (fig. 9): the peak of the polemic was reached at about noon, and the positive comments remained limited.
At 13.45, on FB, Italo posts a new message (Fig.10).
Responding with an agressive languge and attacking critics is a very risky move. Also, the word choice is very important, and their poor choice only made matters worse, producing a second peak in negative comments at around 14.00 (Fig. 9).
Nella mattinata del 25 gennaio (Fig. 11), a rilanciare le polemiche intervengono anche Il Fatto Quotidiano (Eg. on Facebook “Family Day, Italo made a definite niche choice with the discount”) and Internazionale (Eg. on Google+ “Italo thinks bad, writes badly, and hurt its rep as evidenced by the written posts to defend themselves against allegations for the Family Day”).
Only at 16.09 on Facebook and 16.15 on Twitter does Italo respond, issuing an apology (Fig. 12).
The polemic lines are inevitable as a subject that generates peaks of interests. This time around, the apologetic tone and past sponsorized initiatives like the support of the Gay Pride, seem to calm the waters, not immediately, but during the day. On the 26th of January, the amount of negative messages has been contained (Fig.2).
The polemic surrounding Italo and the Family Day is an example of how brands must intervene in a strategic and conscious way during the whole virality time span. It’s not enough to know whats happening in one’s own social networks: it’s necessary to have a clear vision of what’s happening in real time all throughout the web. Messages must be analyzed, as well as posting dynamics and influencers that lead the conversation. Finally it’s a must to know where to post conciliating messages, when to do it, the right tone, and the right content. Social Intelligence becomes an essential instrument, in the primary analysis, the meantime and the aftermath every time a post is published. It’s also necessary to create a working group that has integral dynamics, not only with internal communication and marketing employees, but also with reputation analysis and social media management experts.
Crisis are always around the corner, and it’s better to be ready.