Gerry Harvey: How Twitter toppled a retail giant
Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey has dramatically decided to step away from a campaign to regulate the purchase of goods online from overseas. Harvey has blamed a torrent of social media abuse as prime reason for his departure.
Harvey said the attacks were “vicious and hateful” and, as for the campaign, well, it was “bad timing”.
However, Harvey really bells the cat when he says ‘you might have got a nasty phone call or a letter back in the old days but now anything slightly controversial, these people, whoever they might be, they go for you zealously and with hatred all over Twitter”.
There is no doubt that when the campaign splashed across the media it was met with a wave of criticism, none more virulent and vocal than on Twitter. To begin with the commentary was largely about the tax itself however, it quickly turned personal (and nasty) with the Dear Gerry Harvey thread that exploded across the web ranking as the fifth most talked about topic on Twitter in the world. Yes, the world.
Importantly, the criticisms on Twitter were met with a deafening silence. The Harvey Norman Twitter account all but went to sleep as an avalanche of tweets lambasted their well-respected boss Gerry Harvey.
Even in spite of some online encouragement, the account still lay dormant, only responding to queries about particular products or purchasing inquiries. And herein lies the problem – Harvey Norman should have used Twitter to directly engage with those criticising their involvement in the campaign.
Left alone and without check, discussions on Twitter quickly descend into one big negative echo chamber.
Julie Posetti, an academic from Canberra and one of Australia’s leading social media exponents was quick to point out to Harvey Norman (on Twitter) how they should be countering the criticism “@HarveyNormanAU, that’s great. But you’re not responding directly to the feedback via the platform that’s the source of the ‘beating’”.
But, is social media really to blame? Sure, the campaign was met with an almost unrivalled degree of negativity online but, moreover, it was the lack of a concerted approach across all mediums, including the web, was the real undoing of this campaign. Full-page advertisements should have been coupled with radio slots and most importantly a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook that sought to explain the merits of any proposed changes.
For the average social media user, who would be more inclined to shop online, the overriding perception was that their medium, the Internet, the great connector was being challenged.
The Federal Government, which is due to hand down a report from the Productivity Commission about online shopping would be well advised to tread with great caution about the implementation of any changes. As Steven Conroy has learnt with the proposed internet filter – you need to be well armed if you want to take on the geeks.
So, where to now for Harvey Norman? As one Twitter user so aptly put it – Dear Gerry Harvey, build a fridge and get over it.
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