Social Activism, Reputation Crisis and Twitter. Making #HoyEsBankia a TT in Spain with 1 HT, 68 Tweets, 380 RT and 39220 Followers

Yesterday, 11 January 2011, #HoyEsBankia became a TT (Twitter trending topic) in Top TT List in Spain during a couple of hours (between 10h and 15h local time). Bankia is a leading bank in Spain. The hashtag HoyEsBankia is a ‘Today Is Bankia’, following a ‘Hoy es …’ twitter culture.

As many other active Twitter users, I wondered what did it mean. So I clicked in, as many active Twitter users, and I realised that all was about an apartment tenant about to be evicted because he became unable to assume the mortgage payments to Bankia. I probably found out as leading tweet the following one, by PAH Madrid, as it is one of the tweets that received most RT (retweets) at that time. (Translation: ‘We are already some 20 people and we wait for you! Yesterday we were able to stop Abdul’s eviction. Today is Luis, father of 8 children. The guilty ones: #hoyEsBankia). PAH Madrid is Plataforma Anti Deshaucio (Platform Against Housing Evcition)

This was a clear ugly case for Bankia corporate reputation. In Spain, housing foreclosures are not solved like in the United States law system, by cancelling the unpaid debt by giving back the property to the bank. The Spanish mortgage system implies that if debt reimbursement is not paid, the bank can ask a judicial housing eviction. The tenant loses the ownership of the property, the bank tries to sell the house in an auction. But the debt is cancelled only after paying back to the bank all the mortgage value, which is not normally covered with the house selling.

In a context of a severe economic crisis in Spain (unemployment rate 22%, youth unemployment rate about 47%) created by the burst of the Spanish housing bubble and the global financial crisis, public opinion is specially sensitive to stories of individual stories of people trapped by the crisis. Furthermore, this present case was specially emotionally, as it referred to a father of 8, as it is mentioned in the selected tweet. All this creates the perfect framework for social media attention.

Being in the spotlight for a housing eviction is never nice for a financial institution. In this present case is even worse, as Bankia is one of the banks that has received public funds in a hidden rescue operation (funds were allowed to Cajas accepting to merge because of bad financial conditions). Finally, Bankia and other rescued financial institutions were suffering from a very recent reputation and communication crisis, as they were forced to publicly show the salaries paid to top executives. Bankia CEO, Rodrigo Rato (former IFM Directo) receives an annual salary of 2,3 million euros.

So, we followed and explored this case, as we where intrigued in knowing first the final outcome of this planned eviction, Bankia PR impact and reaction, and finally how all this story was created. We have chosen this case because it is a 100% Twitter driven crisis. In the vast majority of Twitter viral events and issues reflected as TT, the source comes form the outside, and is originated by traditional media (TV programs, news published normally in online editions) or by other social media channels like YouTube. Twitter virality acts in all these cases as viral diffusion facilitator, but not as crisis creator. In this present case, the reputation crisis is born, developed and closed inside Twitter community. I present in this post what I found and what I have learnt from it.

This analysis has been undertaken by monitoring all existing tweets using the hashtag #HoyEsBankia. We want to present some of the elements of this Twitter driven reputation crisis.

As a reminder, in our blog we never provide a political, social or economic interpretation of the crisis that we analyze as reputation crisis, and we do not take any position or judgement concerning the affected parts. The goal of this blog is to provide new empirical evidence and understanding about the impact and interaction of media in reputation crisis. This information may be relevant for scientist and practitioners. In many cases, the information we provide is also relevant for the people interested in the crisis issue chosen rather than about media analysis. In both cases, we consider that our own personal views about each crisis issue is really not relevant and does not offer any added value to our readers.

1. Selecting a hashtag

In my perception, one of the key features that makes Twitter the perfect tool in the social media arena is that it encompasses exactly the soul of what we call the new Transparency Age. Twitter is not only simplicity, concision, bidirectional and network communication, and openness. Twitter is in all these characteristics also full transparency. The absence of privacy ensures the creation of this neuronal network of content, communication, knowledge that will define the essence of future social media. This is also why we consider Twitter rather than Facebook as the future of social media.

This transparency allows me and anyone inside the Twitter community to explore the network of messages created around any particular issue. Like this, we can found and present here the inception of the HT #HoyEsBankia.

This HT was created by Twitter user @FotogrAccion, by 10 January 2012, at 11pm local time. We present below the initial exchanges around the hashtag.

@FotogrAccion participates in the planning of the new protest in order to stop the judicial eviction of Luis’s apartment, starting by 8am the day after. It consists in a pacific concentration of activists in front of the entrance of Luis home. Journalists are also called, in order to increase the pressure. The goal is to push the bank to renounce or at least postpone to apply the judicial eviction order.

The plan is shared with other activists involved in the  protest: @PAH_Madrid, @Torrejon15M and @DRYMadrid. People familiar with social and political situation in Spain know that the associated Twitter account refer to organizations created in the wage of DRY and 15-M protests (DRY=Democracia Real Ya; 15-M= 15-May, the day many protesters decided to stay and camp in Plaza del Sol demanding a revision of the political practices).

In this context, @FotogrAccion, proposes a specific HT for the new protest: #HoyEsBankia. @Torrejon15 suggests an alternative HT (#BankiaVsLuis), but @FotogrAccion gets his/her HT proposal accepted. The new HT is launched, and it will start to be used and disseminated the next morning, when the gathering starts.

We present in the next figure the hourly timeline evolution of tweets and RT using this HT since its inception, up the moment that it becomes a TT in the Spanish List. Nine hours after the HT was launched, by 8am, Jan 11, when the silent protest starts, new tweets are published with the HT, explaining the action and calling for support.

Here comes another of the powerful features of Twitter: it creates particular communities with strong ties inside the global community, with an extraordinary capacity of common communication. Twitter allows to create very strong focussed accounts, that as a consequence maximize the congruence of the network of followers. @FotogrAccion counts with 4.200 followers, @DRYMadrid has 6.150, @Torrejon15M has 830. @PAH_Madrid, the one fully oriented to these anti eviction actions, counts with 2600 followers.

2. Becoming A Trending Topic

As a consequence, when these leaders publish the first messages about the new mission, their tweets are easily reproduced as RT by many other Twitter accounts. There are just 8 tweets between 8 and 9am, but their produce new 50 retweets. In the next hour, there are 38 new tweets containing the HT #HoyEsBankia. These new 28 tweets create another 249 RT. At this moment, #HotEsbankia is a new Trending Topic in Spain.

As we show from a caption, #HoyEsBankia takes the top position in Spain, at 9:57 am local time.

This HT enters in the Top 10 List a little bit earlier. We have identified the first tweet that exults and refers to #HoyEsBankia as national TT. What it is striking is that it happened between 9 and 10 am, just after 68 different tweets, that were retwitted in another 380 tweets.

This result may reflect that Twitter is a rather small community in Spain, at least in term of active users creating new messages. But, like in many other countries, Twitter content is becoming increasingly an influential media channel in Spain, as Twitter TT produces effects outside Twitter community, as they are mentioned as news in traditional media (online and off-line), and concerned people and institutions are obliged to publicly react to issues developed inside Twitter. Whatever the actual size of active people in Twitter, they are the mainstream ‘social media’ thing that corporations, political parties, institutions and personalities observe and fear.

This so ‘cheap’ way to reach a TT status also shows the dynamics of a Twitter Trending Topic. A Top TT is not a widely used term, but a term that experience a dramatic increase of interest among Twitter users. The best way to generate such an increase is to create a brand new term, as  @FotogrAccion.

The next step is to try to reach the number one position in the TT list, and stay inside the Top 10 list as long as you can. TT dynamics impose you to keep your virality status in order to your Top TT List status. This requires a constant increase of tweets and RT in comparison with the previous time unit.

Entering into the TT list provide you a new momentum, as your Twitter exposure explode, as it breaks the particular community that created the HT, and reaches the whole Twitter community. Many people will react to a new TT term, and will decide to enter into the new neuronal communication or debate if interested, or at least explore what it talks about, as I did myself.

Even if reaching the TT Top List multiply the visibility of your debate, it does not ensure to stay in the spotlight for long. The key factor is then the quality of the story itself, in terms of attractiveness for Twitter users. We can guess that fighting for avoiding the eviction of an African emigrant father of 8 kids, against the interest of a rescued bank was  appealing enough. As we have shown, it quickly reached the top position.

3. Becoming A Reputation Crisis

In the very moment that #HoyEsBankia entered into the Top 10 TT List, the ongoing protest for stopping Luis eviction became a corporate reputation crisis.

Before it reached this critical point, the social activist operation stayed mainly inside the circles of collectivities fighting against housing eviction. We have shown that this initiative started and was developed by Twitter accounts strongly focused in these issues. @PHA_Madrid  mission is exactly to block evictions, @DRYMadrid , for ‘Democracia Real Ya’ was initiated as a movement opposed to current practices not only by politicians, but also by banks. Its first slogan was ‘No somos mercancías en manos de políticos y banqueros’. @Torrejon15M, as explained, is one derivation of DRY movement. Finally, @FotogrAccion, the creator of the HT, is fully integrated inside this movements and political and social goals.

As all pertain to a so focussed Twitter community, their actions, protests and twitting remain inside their community. Even if these groups use daily Twitter as channel for communicating their actions, anger and outraged messages against financial institutions, we consider that it does not damage too much banks corporate reputation. All these groups are established as enemies of financial corporations as they are currently designed. As they behave as rivals, banks have nothing to lose with them in terms of reputation, was banks will never be positively viewed.

The reputation problem arises when these closed groups are able to break their own confines, and succeed attracting the attention of standard media, traditional or social. Becoming a Twitter TT allows you to access all standard social media. You become visible to all Twitter community, and not only to those especially sensitive to the consequences of the crisis for the poor. It becomes an open issue for all Twitter users.

As explained, if the HT is designed in a smart way that pushes Twitter users to check out what behind this hashtag, the virality impact of the issue explodes, and keeps inside the Top TT List for a while. One key feature for creating a reputation crisis is that the hashtag contains the name of the bank, Bankia. Every minute in the Top TT List harms Bankia corporate reputation, as many unrelated users learn that Bankia is about to evict a father of 8 because as unemployed he is unable to continue to ensure the mortgage payments. For some this will be a difficult but a justified action that Bankia could assume, as legality is in their side. But for many others, this will create an outraged reaction against Bankia image and perception, confirming the present poor reputation of the financial institutions.

As explained, if the hashtag is appealing, Twitter users dynamics is to select the HT in order to learn more about the ongoing issue. Twitter provide as output the tweets considered most relevant at that time.

Below is the caption showing the results of this HT, one day later. They are all extremely negative in terms of corporate reputation.

Our appraisal is clear. If your company becomes a TT in relation with a misbehavior or something negatively perceived, you enter into the red alert zone for reputation management, PR and communication crisis. Only in very few cases a red alert requires a ‘wait and see’ strategy as response.

In the following figure we show the magnitude of the reputation crisis from the instant that a company becomes a negative TT.

The figure displays the share of all tweets about Bankia that explicitly include the HT #HoyEsBankia. It reaches a share above 70% during the period that the HT is a Trending Topic. You have there an explosion of tweets about the company, and the vast majority of them are related with the negative reputation affaire.

4. A TT Lifecycle

What happened after #HoyEsBankia entered into the TT List?

We present the full HT story in the next figure. It shows the number of tweets using the HT #HoyEsBankia hour by hour, since its inception to the moment it is no used anymore.

As explained before, the hashtag is created at the end of 10 January, nine hours later, when the protest opens, tweets start to spread. Before 10am, after 11 hours it becomes a TT. One hour later it reaches its maximum. By 3pm, after 15 hours it moves out from the TT Top List. By the end of 11 January we find the last tweets using the sucessful hashtag. It completely disappeared just after  24h

We provide a complementary view in the following figure, where we represent the aggregate volume of tweets using the HT #HoyEsbankia.

The results show us that the HT that became a Trending Topic during five hours in Spain generated all in all 913 different tweets.

It gives also insights about the virality dynamics. When it becomes a TT it had just 7.4% of all tweets about the issue. In the next five hours when it became a TT, another 650 tweets were published (72% of all tweets). The remaining 21% tweets were published in the following seven hours.

As explained, we find that this reputation crisis is mostly a Twitter drive one, as all things went so fast that traditional media had no time to react and create new content and pressure based in Luis’s eviction case. Some Tv channels showed some images about the protest in morning programs. As for newspapers, there were two reactions, but they came just after the eviction was stopped. It was ‘El Digital de Madrid‘, and the local Madrid edition of the national newspaper ‘El Mundo‘. In fact, even the photos about the event were provided by in situ Twitter users. We show below a selection of them.




5. Bankia Reaction

What did Bankia in the meanwhile?

In the real world outside Twitter, it took the decision to suspend the eviction. This decision was communicated around 12am, and reached Twitter community instantly. Was this decision taken because of social media pressure? We cannot ensure it, as Bankia did not provide any press release in relation with the issue. Was it due to TV and newspaper pressure? According to our results, this is not the main reason for stopping the eviction, as the traditional media coverage was reduced at that point. But it is also probable that Bankia managers were extremely concerned that a sustained TT could become a news distributed massively in traditional media. All elements tend to the conclusion that due to the viral success of the Twitter hashtag #HoyEsBankia, bankia was forced to stop the eviction process, at least temporarily.

What was Bankia reaction inside Twitter community?

None. Bankia has two official corporate accounts, @Bankia (2.150 followers) and @Pressbankia (880 followers). No reference at all about the ongoing eviction case and subsequent reputation crisis was published or mentioned in these two official accounts. In fact, and in contrast with other days, no messages at all were published when #HoyEsBankia was still ‘alive’

To our understanding, this silence was the only possible strategy available for Bankia. Any explanation or statement other than the eviction was stopped would undoubtedly fuelled the virality of the crisis and moved it more quickly into traditional media. Also, an statement explaining that the eviction process was aborted due to public opinion (social media pressure) would strengthen the movement anti-eviction.

What I learned from this crisis

1. The story is the essence

The apparent main lesson is probably that creating a social media crisis was costless and even ridiculous in terms of means and impact (just 68 tweets). But my first lesson is not that one. Twitter is social media, and social media is media. Communication success needs always a powerful story. Twitter virality requires that the story behind the HT deserves attention and reaction. Twitter has its own communication rules, and being a powerful story does not always mean a dramatic, inspiring or outraging story. It can also be cynical, surprising, amusing or provocative. #HoyEsBankia required a strong story behind in order to provoke anger and reaction from a relevant share of people knowing about it. Otherwise, it could not reach or stay in the Top TT List.

2. A focused Twitter account with active followers is a powerful social media actor

#HoyEsBankia became eventually top TT in Spain probably thanks to the initial RT from followers of the Twitter accounts that designed the anti eviction protest and choose the hashtag. As explained, a relevant number of new tweets and retweets in a short period of time is a necessary condition for gaining the TT visibility. This can be easily reached if a social activist leader launches a new operation and followers are active and numerous enough to disseminate. All Twitter users are actors and spectators, but this crisis shows that Twitter is creating an unsuspected new category of social media leadership. It will be volatile, very voluble, with different profiles depending on the affected issues. These new leaders will be really influential, specially if they do not waste their power in  spurious goals, but keep always focused in the mission that created the crowd of followers.

3. Long live the Community Managers

It is still unclear for many the function, mission and utility of Community Managers (CM) inside the Corporate Brand, Reputation and Communication structure. This is also my case. But this crisis shows me that someone at Bankia should be aware that something wrong was about to happen. Of course, the task of a CM is not to discover that your company has become a TT with a negative perception. The task is to call the team and the managers announcing that your company is about to become a TT in th next few (hours?) minutes, and that a reputation crisis management is required. The theory says that Twitter is a marvellous tool for listening to customers, public opinion, and stakeholders in general. A crisis launched by a successful HT is a clear case where active listening by CM can prevent massive virality by detecting early alert symptoms of a reputation crisis, and activating red alert protocols when an incoming negative TT is sure.

4. Corporation caring about social media crisis will need Twitter content monitoring software

Smart Community Managers will be able to predict if a costumer or activist complaint or attack is spreading and becomes a threat of a potential reputation crisis. But companies that are in the front line of social media attacks (and I think that all relevant companies where reputation matter) cannot rely on CM know-how and intuition for preserving brand reputation. Many companies are upset by the lack of reliability and meaning of products promising that they identify Twitter mood concerning the corporation.  In any case, it is needed to count with a systematic monitoring of the evolution of negative feelings about a company in Twitter. Finding results concerning messages with very negative content is easily than providing a serious measure of the brand reputation of a company.

5. Twitter and social media impose the definition of new and faster reputation emergency protocols.

The crisis studied in this post took less than 10 hours to become viral. When initiated, it took less than 3 hours to become a visible to all Twitter community in Spain. It completely disappeared from the radar just 12 hours after it became a TT. As analyzed in the previous post, a Youtube crisis is also a matter of few days, and in some cases also a matter of hours. All this clearly indicate that a traditional protocol that requires a lot of checks and controls, meetings, decisions and hierarchical approvals is not ready to solve properly a Twitter driven reputation crisis. New standards should be defined. This revision does not affect just the crisis communication policy inside Twitter with the official corporate Twitter accounts. Bankia was obliged to take a decision within hours concerning the application of the judicial eviction procedure. This was a management decision, not merely a communication measure.

6. Yes, Twitter is truly social media and, as a consequence it is an outstanding new tool for social activists.