Among the many celebrities and public figures who operate Twitter accounts, the entrepreneur and TV personality Duncan Bannatyne stands out for having rolled his sleeves up and really engaged with the purpose of the service.
Chatting with fans of his television shows and answering questions from customers of his health spas and gyms, exchanging photos from his phone with friends and family, joshing with celebrity acquaintences and promoting his charity projects, his Twitter stream @DuncanBannatyne is clearly by and about the man himself – and as far from a careful piece of PR strategising as can be imagined.
No surprise, perhaps, given that Bannatyne’s corporate brand is tied intimately to his personal one – and his personal brand is that of the plain-speaking self-made millionaire who started out with an ice cream van and built an empire by hard work and blunt directness.
That bluntness was much in evidence at the weekend when his wife accidently left behind on a Virgin train the custom-made dress she was planning to wear at a formal event that evening.
Mobilising his 55,000 Twitter followers with the offer of a £1000 reward, he made what initially seemed a rather optimistic call for help: “The dress is in a cream cloth carrier back in the middle 1st class carriage. C’mon peeps prove Twitter can do this good deed.”
He even directed a Tweet at Virgin’s Richard Branson, who was spending the weekend in Bahrain with his Formula One team: “@richardbranson C’mon mate find the bloody dress or I will have a miserable night.”
But Branson – unlike his rival team boss and airline owner Tony Fernandes of Lotus – was not Tweeting through the Grand Prix, and only silence followed. Meanwhile, Bannatyne’s attempts to deal with Virgin Trains were proving equally fruitless.
“@kyletaylor812 Tried that, waste of time… Virgin customer services have not proven to be very helpful in this… @SylviaTidyHarri yes but Virgin lost property is closed on a Saturday… @BarrieCrampton Yes completly useless”
In fact, events were brewing up into a potential PR nightmare for Virgin – until the following conversation ensued with Virgin employee John Power:
johno4501: @DuncanBannatyne Sir your wifes dress has been found and is in the lost property office at euston
DuncanBannatyne: @johno4501 Are you joking?
DuncanBannatyne: @johno4501 How would you know that and who can I speak to on phone?
johno4501: @DuncanBannatyne no sir im a Virgin Trains Manager and called the Euston team to find the dress
DuncanBannatyne: @johno4501 What number I have made loads of calls?
johno4501: @DuncanBannatyne My Colleagues Chris has the dress and is at the lost property office now if you need his mobile please DM me thanks
DuncanBannatyne: @johno4501 Done that now
DuncanBannatyne: The fantastic @johno4501 is a train manager on Virgin & he took the time to locate the dress. Thank you John, thank you very much
johno4501: @DuncanBannatyne Thank you Sur glad me and my colleagues could assist you hope your Wife and yourself enjoy your evening
DuncanBannatyne: Some of you have not realised yet but we found the dress, the power of twitter has yet to be fully realised
DuncanBannatyne: @YourStylist Believe it or not a member of staff at Euston found it on the platform 3 hours after it was left on the train
TheWineyard: @DuncanBannatyne I think @johno4501 deserves a promotion/bonus for that! Talk about doing the world of good for a company’s brand image…
DuncanBannatyne: listen @RichardBranson do you know what a great employee you have in @johno4501 ? You should personally call him & thank him for his work
DuncanBannatyne: @johno4501 hi John I need an adress to send you the reward
DuncanBannatyne: Please join me in following the great @johno4501
johno4501: @DuncanBannatyne Sir thanks for you kind offer i do not require any reward if you wish you can make a donation to Clic Sargeant charity
johno4501: @DuncanBannatyne which is one Virgin Trians chosen charity caring for children with cancer thanks again
DuncanBannatyne: @johno4501 Thank you John I will do I am alrady a big supporter of Clic Sergeant
johno4501: Wow thank you for all your kind messages re missing dress. I am amazed how fast this story spread around twitter and slightly embarrased!!!
johno4501: please also note other colleagues of mine were involved in finding the dress so thanks to them to.
pep1209: @DuncanBannatyne Thankyou for the retweeting this. this is my husband i am v proud. he would do it for anyone x
A happy ending all round, with Bannatyne later posting a Twitpic of his wife in the dress, and one of himself looking typically buccaneering in black tie. No word on whether Richard Branson actually has contacted Power but, with so many big brand names like Vodafone, Habitat and Rentokil walking face-first into damaging Twitter storms, he certainly ought to.
As social media analyst Mark Pack summarised it:
The lessons from all this?
- People don’t stop talking about your firm outside of office hours
- When someone talks about your firm online, many other people are listening in too
- Motivated staff who can display initiative are good for all sorts of reasons – but their ability to react sensibly to online discussion about the firm is another one to add to the list