DHL Africa’s embarrassing Twitter fail and lessons to be learnt

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It is the morning after Ghana’s 59th Independence Day celebration. As expected, there were a lot of goodwill messages from Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians. Some section of the Ghanaian populace also didn’t disappoint. These lot, like they do every year, moped and complained about all that we could have been but are not.

Gosh! Are we not tired of these crybabies? We may all not like the pace of our development and the Ghana we see today but we could all be part of the reason future generations love the Ghana of tomorrow. Let’s just walk the talk. Having said this, let me hasten to add that these same Ghanaians believe they can say and paint a picture of all the bad things about Ghana but if you are an “outsider” and dare try to do same, you will not be spared.

This is probably what DHL Africa never took into consideration before putting out a tweet, which stirred the hornets’ nest. I have always maintained that social media is a dangerous sea to chart, even for the most skilled of sailors (in this case users). One irresponsible post or tweet or a message not thoroughly thought through can have a detrimental effect on one’s brand or identity.

Over the years, we have come to realise that even the largest and most influential brands with expert social media teams still make catastrophic mistakes on social media. The result can range from a mildly embarrassing, to an offensive and hateful response that causes long-term harm to a brand’s identity.

The Tweet

DHL Africa in its effort to join the chorus of individuals and companies celebrating Ghana’s 59th Independence anniversary, tweeted a picture of British Accra, also known as James Town with the accompanying message, “Today, #Ghana celebrates its independence. Here is a photo of the beautiful streets of Ghana! #AfricaAsOne”.

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The Fail

In my opinion, the message was apt but the accompanying image was what incensed a lot of people (myself included), in what they believed was a subliminal effort by DHL Africa to paint Ghana as a “society where nothing is happening” by highlighting on an image that portrays a colonial vestige. Even if that’s the truth, most organisations would want to stay clear off communicating that openly or unconsciously. Sadly, that’s the message their tweet seemed to have communicated.

Even though DHL Africa quickly rendered an apology after some influential tweeps had registered their displeasure about the image and pulled down the tweet but it was too late; as it had already incurred the ire of tweeps, who screen-grabbed it and retweeted it as part of their response to them.

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To counter this, some Ghanaian tweeps took to the platform to tweet pictures of parts of Ghana they could have highlighted other than what many will refer as a colonial vestige.

In an era, where many young Africans believe some media outlets have not been fair in the way they project the new Africa, you don’t want to be seen as using your brand to fuel that; especially if your brand operates on the continent. What most tweeps could not understand is why the company decided to use that particular image out of all the images of Ghana they could have used.

Below are some of the responses from Tweeps

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Lessons to be learnt

1.    Convey a genuine message

Despite DHL Africa’s good intentions to congratulate the good people of Ghana, their message did not resonate well with a particular audience, specifically Ghanaian. They believed that the company did not do justice to the accompanying photo, which was not a true reflection of the beautiful streets of Ghana after 59 years of independence. Thus most considered the company as being mischievous with its message to the good people of Ghana.

Lesson: In seeking to convey messages on social media, individuals, companies and organisations must convey a genuine message – one which will not draw the ire of their audiences. Images must correspond to text and the message must be a true reflection of what is on the ground.

2.    Do your research

Was that the streets of Ghana after 59 years? Yes. One can argue that it is a part of the colonial past of Ghana but that picture is not the sum total of the streets of Ghana.

Personally, I believe that either the person who posted the image is not resident in Ghana or did not do enough research about the country before tweeting. The last thing any brand would want to be seen as doing is unconsciously but covertly trying to wreck another brand. Sadly, that was the feedback a lot of tweeps got from the accompanying image.

I believe that as a company which has enjoyed a long and good business climate and environment in the country, there are other aspects of the country they know better, which could have been highlighted.

In my opinion, seeking the input and requesting for a picture from the Ghana DHL office. It could have been one of the options they could have explored.

Lesson: A proper research is always key towards framing the right message for your communication efforts.

3.    Render an apology

SORRY, they say is the hardest word but when your brand’s success or failure is determined by stakeholders who wield so much influence in an age of technology and social media, you have to swallow every trace of your pride.

Upon realising that their tweet had caused a lot of disaffection among some section of Ghanaians, what DHL Africa sought to do was to apologise for the “gaffe” by indicating that,  “We deeply apologise for our tweet not portraying Ghana in a more positive light. Happy Independence Day #DLHCares”.

To be on the side of caution, they decided, this time, around to use the Ghanaian flag as the accompanying image.

Lesson: Render an apology when it matters. A heartfelt apology can go a long way in earning back trust that you may have lost according to Mary Jo Jacobi, Former Presidential Advisor and Communications Strategist.

What do you make of DHL Africa’s tweet? Do you think Tweeps overreacted? Let’s have a conversation in my one corner.