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Archive for June, 2010

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The Greencoat Boy and I – a case study of a twitterstorm

There was me thinking I was going to have a quiet weekend – and I end up involved in a media whirlwind. Here’s how I used my press office experience to  turn an outrageous incident into an international trending topic and a national news story with a positive outcome.

Greencoat Boy (c) Ewan-M on FlickR
Greencoat Boy Pub

It started tamely enough – LGBT Labour held its annual AGM in a sweltering room in Victoria. After it finished the group decamped to a local pub, where we’d booked some space for a small social.

For an hour or so everything was fine – the pub was happily taking our money and we enjoyed a quiet drink. Then, apparently a lone drinker complained about the group to the manager, who asked us to take down our small innocuous banner with the name of our group in the area we’d reserved.

The Manager then explained to us that had he known we were a gay group he’d never have taken our booking and refused to serve us.

Now as you can imagine – we were appalled. And we were a group who knew our rights; proud of the 2006 legislation that made it illegal to discriminate in the provision of goods and services based on sexual orientation.

Get the story out there

Being appalled is one thing – but I’m a press officer, and when I see an injustice I do what I do best: get the story out there.

First I needed to do a bit of research, we knew the pub had a parent company – and they were the people we needed to complain too. A quick search on my phone confirmed the pub was owned by Punch Taverns.

So now to spread the word: 140 characters forces you to be succinct, and people need to be able retweet just the one tweet – so i quickly put this together and posted it to twitter:

.bbpBox{background:url(http://s.twimg.com/a/1274899949/images/themes/theme9/bg.gif) #1A1B1F;padding:20px;}

Pub refusing to serve us cos we’re gay. 100 paying customers. Don’t go to greencoat boy in westminster or any punch taverns pub. Please rtSat Jun 05 18:11:26 via Twitter for iPhone

Traditional skills

I knew that tweeting this wasn’t enough – I needed to use my experience to make this into a real story. I got straight on to the phone to my contacts at ITN to spread the word about what was going on.

Within minutes a journalist from Attitude Magazine, who follows my feed, saw my tweet and retweeted it from their twitter feed – and this got the storm really going. After telling people to follow me for more details my iPhone was buzzing with a new follower every few seconds.

This was an amazing start – but we needed to get some momentum going. I used my contacts on twitter in the gay press (Pink News and SoSoGay) to let them know what was going on.

Stories started to appear quickly and my follower count continued to grow. I knew i needed to keep people updated about what was going on – and give them a means to get involved. A friend got hold of the CEO’s email address – so i quickly retweeted it.

.bbpBox{background:url(http://a3.twimg.com/profile_background_images/44174237/nec09.jpg) #ebc1e3;padding:20px;}

E-mail for PunchTaverns cheif exec is askgiles@punchtaverns.com #greencoat box #homophobiaSat Jun 05 19:28:33 via mobile web

Top Trending Topic

By this point the story was taking on a life of its own. High profile Labour tweeters including Sarah Brown and John Prescott got involved:

.bbpBox{background:url(http://a1.twimg.com/profile_background_images/100800514/84858276.jpg) #C0DEED;padding:20px;}

@LGBTLabour 40 years ago we campaigned against a Hull pub that banned ‘women & queers’ This is disgraceful. Fully back you #greencoatboySat Jun 05 21:11:25 via mobile web

By now we were the Biggest trending topic in the UK (despite the Britain’s Got Talent final being on the TV) and the outpouring of support online was phenomenal. Someone had set up a Facebook group (over 1000 fans at the latest count) and a twitterer with a wonderful sense of humour set up the spoof twitter account PunchTavernsPR.

Keeping the story going

Overnight – mainstream journalists began to get in touch with me via my website and I put together a slightly more detailed summary that I could use with journalists. Again, my press officer skills kicked in – I set up the journalists with people from LGBT Labour who had spoken to the manager and to the police so that the story would include the strongest interview possible (turning down interview requests for myself).

Soon we were the most read story in the UK on BBC Online, which also revealed the other fantastic use of twitter. John Prescott’s short tweet was a perfect soundbite to put into the story – without needing to chase him down for an interview.

My contact on twitter at BBC London got in touch and I set up them up to interview LGBT Labour committee member Richard Angell – soon ITV’s London Tonight had emailed me and I knew we had a real story going.

Punch Taverns had quickly discovered something was going on, being contacted by BBC News and London Tonight certainly must have sparked them into action, as they got in touch with LGBT Labour.

After an initially disappointing non-apology, by the end of Sunday they had published an unreserved apology, suspended the manager and began an investigation.

The morning after – a real result

The Guardian made the story the page 5 lead on the Monday morning, and it also appeared in the Independent and many other mainstream news outlets online. BBC London News and ITV London Tonight both ran the story and interviews on Monday evening.

This was a fantastic result – brought about by a combination of old-fashioned press office skills, new media, and the heartwarming reaction of the great british public. It’s quite clear that this kind of behaviour has no place in 21st century Britain, and the public won’t stand for it.

At last count, my initial tweet had over 1000 retweets and I’d received 100s of messages of support. My only regret is that i couldn’t thank them all individually.