Despite the wild, untamable success of Twitter and Facebook, we still meet people who are unconvinced that social media matters to their business. I appreciate the sentiment that good old fashioned networking will help grow your business. However, I don’t agree that it’s the only thing that will grow your business, or that it’s the most effective way to grow your business today.

This week I wanted to talk about two significant moments in the Twittersphere (Is that a real word? Yes. Yes, it is).The first is an example of how one person reached across the United States to reclaim a stolen item, and the other is how a major clothing store faced an unexpected PR disaster.

Where’s My Bike? How Twitter caught a bike thief

Twitter Catches a Bike Thief in Boulder

Earlier this week, a woman in Boulder had her bicycle stolen. This is an unfortunate, though relatively common, occurrence. Her neighbors caught the bike thief on camera, and sent her the pictures.

Now, if this were 1991, or even 2001, the woman may have posted flyers in her neighborhood with photos of her bike and the bike thief, asking for her neighbors’ help in recovering her bike. In fact, this wouldn’t be a bad idea to do in 2011, either.

But instead, she put her social media skills to use and posted the photo of the bike thief to her 3,000 Twitter followers. In turn, her followers re-tweeted her post, and within hours her bicycle was found.

Twitter Catches a Bike Thief in Boulder

If you search on Twitter there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of posts about this incident. While a bike theft isn’t the most newsworthy of events—unless it’s your bike!—the part of this story that’s significant is how effective and powerful Twitter was in recovering the bike.

Urban Outfitters and the Indie Gauntlet

PR Disaster or PR Dream?

On May 25, an independent artist posted on her Tumblr page that one of her jewelry designs had been copied and produced by the clothing and accessories store Urban Outfitters. Within hours, thousands of people on Twitter and Tumblr were discussing the issue, calling for a boycott of Urban Outfitters.

For the past two days Urban Outfitters has been one of the top trending topics on Twitter. What does this mean? Well, it means that hundreds of thousands—possibly millions—of people are tweeting about the incident, most of them agreeing to boycott the store.

Urban Outfitters Twitter Disaster Part 2

Today, just two days after the artist posted this discovery on her Tumblr page, Urban Outfitters has pulled the item from its shelves. And the artist? Well, her Twitter feed indicates that she has more requests for jewelry than she can handle.

Having your designs stolen by a million-dollar company is never anyone’s ideal. However, in many ways she couldn’t have asked for better publicity.

Urban Outfitters Twitter Disaster: Conclusion

Urban Outfitters is reeling from the event. Accusations are flying that the company steals designs from independent artists all the time. Maybe it’s true, and maybe it’s not. But if the Twittersphere believes it to be true, Urban Outfitters must address it. On the other hand, as a top trending topic, Urban Outfitters is gaining an unprecedented amount of publicity. It remains to be seen whether in the end this will ultimately harm or benefit them.

What does this mean?

Interesting news spreads fast. If you find something that people are passionate about, they will take that information and scatter it like seeds. In this analogy Twitter is the soil and ideas are seeds. Ok, so that was a bad metaphor.

But the point is this: social media is powerful. We can’t control what information—or misinformation—will be popular (well, we know that if it involves Justin Bieber it will always be a trending topic). However, we do have the power to put ourselves into the Twitter stew rather than trying to stir it from the outside.

Lessons

1. Make sure your company is being monitored on Twitter. Reply and retweet. Respond to praise and criticism in a careful and positive way.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Traditional advertising and conventional customer service are still important. But social media has turned the power of referral into a beast that we have very little direct control over. It’s humbling, but it shouldn’t be daunting.

3. Engage your followers, not just to help your business grow, but to give you a “face” in the democracy that is Twitter. Link to your own site and content, but also link to other valuable information. Be a good sport.

About New Why

Web development, online advertising, and social media management for nonprofits and companies who want to make the world a better place.

Locations

Denver, Colorado

And

Culver City, California

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