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OfficeWork’s #TrolleyGate – An Important Lesson In Social Media Marketing

Michael Brown // 02nd June 2016

Our favourite supplier of pens, notebooks and paper shredders taught me a valuable lesson about social media marketing over the past week. OfficeWorks, Australia’s leading office supply chain, found itself caught in the middle of what I am now dubbing #TrolleyGate, where customer Andrew Mitchell posted a creative narrative to the chain’s Facebook page conveying an almost tragic tale of a trolley dumped on his front verge, which the company failed to collect despite numerous reports.

We often hear that social media can be a powerful tool in ‘controlling’ the conversation surrounding our brand, company, or even ourselves, but it is easy to miss the fact that when setting up platforms like Facebook and Instagram and collecting thousands of followers in one place, we are actually granting each and every one of those followers some degree of access to that audience too. By increasing our own ‘power’ in the online conversation, we are sharing that power, that podium if you will, with other members of the community. The only way to limit this fact would be to cut off modes of interaction like comments, but that wouldn’t be very good for social now would it? And really our platforms are only as good as the engagement of the users we build them with, anyway.

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Andrew’s post sharing the life of ‘Trevor’ on his property quickly went viral, reaching over 70,000 likes (sorry, reactions) and 35,000 shares to date. Facebook’s ‘edit’ function allowed Andrew to update the popular post almost like a journal, and in the comments section he shared photo after photo of significant moments for Trevor, such as walking the dog, mowing the lawn and trying on some new sneakers. Some of the 15,000 other commenters even shared some trolley memes of their own in response to the tale of Trevor. Like any social media marketer would, David from OfficeWorks saw this as a PR gold mine and responded to Trevor’s life moments with his own creative responses, even ensuring the trolley’s fans that Trevor would ‘undergo intensive counselling’ upon his return to make sure he is ready to fulfil his store duties once more.

It really seemed like Andrew and OfficeWorks were writing the next Disney Pixar movie comment by comment, and I won’t be surprised to see the movie’s teaser trailer pop up in a few weeks to advertise a 2017 release. Things were great all round for a while, with the OfficeWorks brand spreading positively like wildfire alongside the funny Facebook post, and Andrew was garnering a bit of fame from it too. It seemed fans didn’t care so much about the company’s failure to pick up its dumped property either, at least when it was in the midst of such a creative narrative.

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Like a tale from Game of Thrones though, OfficeWorks was soon reminded it wasn’t in control of the viral story, with Andrew eventually declaring he was having so much fun with Trevor that he didn’t want to send him back. The almost poetic nature of #TrolleyGate took a strange turn with OfficeWorks awkwardly trying to convince Andrew to give Trevor back, and David now had to prepare for his employer to be branded as a kidnapper when the ‘authorities’ inevitably got around to doing their job.

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It happened, and consequently Andrew notified Trevor’s fans that the tale had transformed to one of loss and heartbreak. While thousands of Facebook users witnessed the cute and funny tale of an OfficeWorks trolley, thousands more will now see Andrew’s edited post ending with the declaration that he won’t be visiting the store again anytime soon. What was once a textbook case of positive PR spin on social media became a reminder that all brands, companies and personalities are at the mercy of an ever-changing platform that can project the voice of regular users to be as influential and far reaching as their own – if not more so.

Some might argue that OfficeWorks could have just deleted the post when things turned ‘sour’. I can think of many reasons why silencing critics on social media could backfire for a brand as large as OfficeWorks, but the most important one would have to be this: proof to claim those royalty cheques from Disney Pixar in 2017 – surely greater than the margins made on pencils, and now more lucrative thanks to Andrew’s dramatic plot twist.

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Michael Brown

Michael feels privileged to be part of the #SMPerth community as its first intern.

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