How #guardianexclusive Caused the Twitter Hype Machine to Backfire

This isn't the only way to Fail on Twitter...

If I’d have told you 24 hours ago that The Guardian were the UK newspaper that used Twitter most effectively, you’d have believed me. We’d have agreed that topic-specific accounts like Guardian Tech were well followed, and that columnists like Sid Lowe worked the Twitter crowd well.

And then they went and did this. Oh, well done Guardian Sport. To quote another sporting foot-shooter, “take a bow, son.”

How #guardianexclusive Caused the Twitter Hype Machine to Backfire

The real shame in #guardianexclusive isn’t that it backfired hideously. Dozens of corporate and newspaper accounts have left reporters or PR departments with egg on their virtual faces. No, the real shame is that Guardian Sport started so well.

Step One: Authority and Integrity

I couldn’t start a Twitter failure of #guardianexclusive magnitude. And neither could most people. But, as mentioned at the start of this post, The Guardian are were great at Twitter. @Guardian_Sport have over 37,000 followers, who pay attention to what’s being Tweeted. A solid brand name, and a history of solid reporting mean that The Guardian were in prime position to generate some real hype.

Step Two: Create Some Mystery

RT @ianprior: Major – and boy do I mean it – football exclusive coming up on sometime around 5.30.

How could you not fall for that Tweet? A named source (Sports Editor Ian Prior) at a trusted news outlet telling you that there’s going to be some major news. And he’s not joking. The Guardian often mock the culture of hype surrounding Premier League football, so that little “and boy do I mean it” shows readers that this isn’t going to be a damp squib hyped up for a joke.

Add the January transfer window, rumours of a Qatari takeover of Manchester United and the fact that it’s a quiet Thursday afternoon into a mix, and The Guardian have the making of some serious hype.

Step Three: Stoking the Fires

So The Guardian has told you that big news is brewing. But it’s not for ninety minutes, and people are easily bored in Twitter land. Especially when the big reveal is going to happen at the time millions of people will be turning off computers and leaving offices.

So then comes the stoking Tweet. The teaser. Something to keep this story at the forefront of your mind. Enter Ian Prior, again.

Ok, small clue. Big transfer story and not Man U being sold

Something to cling to. Transfer news. If you’re a football fan, you know how crazy the January transfer window isn’t. But this year could be different. Speculation starts. Who’s moving? Is it shirt-selling show-pony Christiano Ronaldo? Lionel “The Thinking Fan’s Crumpet” Messi? The Anglosphere’s beloved David Beckham? Had Andy Hughes decided that Scunthorpe’s a horrible place and returned to Leeds?

Or was it, as one cocksure lad claimed, just a ploy to announce Guardian journalist James Richardson’s ascension to Sky Sports punditry?

The clocks ticked down. And all The Guardian had to do was release the big story and watch the Twitter hype machine deliver the sort of traffic that advertisers can only dream of.

Step Four: The Reveal

And it all goes to pot.

#Inter to bid £40m for Gareth Bale via @guardian #thfc

That’s not a transfer story. A team haven’t bid for another team’s player, but they might in the future.

And so it all falls down.

Hype Hinges on the End Product

You can play the hype machine like it’s a violin, but a bum note ruins the spectacle somewhat. It’s difficult to say whether any story other than Messi leaving Barcelona for Real Madrid could have sated the Twitter crowd the Guardian built up.  But one thing’s for sure, a non-story about a possible move for a Welsh fullback in six months time wasn’t going to make anyone happy.

If you’re going to use Twitter to create some enthusiasm, then make sure that you’ve got an end product. As Guardian Sport have showed, if you have everything right up to that point, you’re just setting yourself up for a huge fall.

Make sure you’ve got something to say before you ask the world to listen.

For more information on the aftermath,  Zeitgeist & Stuff have done a great post on #guardianexclusive.

8 Comments comments for "How #guardianexclusive Caused the Twitter Hype Machine to Backfire"

  1. Ralph Ferrett at 10:47 pm

    When my former webhost went bust and I lost everything it was really awful. Must say I worried that you might suffer the same fate during your travails so glad it had a happy ending!

  2. Leigh Caldwell at 11:29 am

    Was this a clever parody? The build up at the beginning of this article to the “biggest twitter disaster in history” was entirely let down by the non-story at the end. Er, just like the Guardian.

    So some announced an exclusive and then it was not quite as exciting as some people hoped? OK then. I was hoping for rather more gory details about the terrible revenge wrought on the Guardian by angry twitterers. Or how they lost 14,000 disillusioned followers. Or…well, anything other than just “the story wasn’t that big”.

  3. Tom Albrighton at 12:07 pm

    Good post. I’m not sure any attempt to whip up interest before the fact really works online. Whatever you’ve got to offer, it’s best to get it out there up front, since interest is quickly generated but evaporates even more quickly. And online discussion can be so feverish that, really, ANY reveal is going to result in an ‘is that it?’ feeling.

    Look at the way record companies are now looking to release singles as soon as they’re ready, rather than building them up with radio play first. If they try to ‘preload’ people’s interest, someone just acquires the audio from digital radio and shares it via P2P, resulting in lower sales once the real deal hits the shops. These days, people want it NOW – whatever it is. Insert world-weary observation about modern-day attention spans here.

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