The purpose of any kind of corporate communication is to leave a positive impression about the organization in the minds of people.
Ironically, I recently came across a piece of corporate communication from a company that was being shared online for its notoriety, but it led me to explore more about the product itself!
The company is a start-up called Fold that aims to make “personal finance simple, easy and delightful”, and has an app that aggregates your assorted bank accounts to give you a unified view (so you can make better financial decisions).
What was the notorious piece of communication that led me to be aware of Fold’s existence?
It’s easy to understand why these replies went viral.
However, this is not the first time Fold is getting such caustic, unpleasant feedback.
Take a look at this, and Fold’s response.
Or, the many tweets (xs?) that talk about having a poor experience with the app or finding the app itself to be useless, with Fold tagged… and no reply from Fold! A sample:
And I have not even included the many, many tweets that came after that ill-fated reaction from Fold on September 2, 2023!
To be sure, Fold did eventually realize that their reaction was unwarranted and tried to make amends (which led to a fresh set of reactions about how it hardly seemed like an apology).
There are a couple of things worth observing in this episode.
Fold’s reaction to Dushyant on September 2nd is what I’d call a piece of polarizing communication, that is, it can split the readers into 2 opposing factions.
Consider this: if Fold had reacted to Dushyant with, “Hey Dushyant, sorry that you feel that way. Much of the issues are from the banks’ end and we’re working hard to set things right overall. Perhaps try us out after a few weeks/months?”, it would have ended the conversation then and there. Not because it is boringly plain, but because it doesn’t polarize reactions. It doesn’t include a human-like sentiment (“I’m offended by your tweet”) and responds practically to the concerns raised. It would simply mean that the Fold team is pragmatic about where they are in their product’s evolution and says it as it is.
In fact, Fold did exactly that in response to Shivakumar’s tweet!
It’s probable that the person handling Twitter on behalf of Fold on that day had a bad day and that led to the uncharacteristic reply (and subsequent replies).
But it’s also true that this reply was perhaps Fold’s most viewed/engaged tweet in a very long time. I’m reasonably sure Fold would have tracked some form of incoming interest after that reply – page views (for the page linked in the first tweet reply) or people installing the app (though they need an invite code to activate it).
Considering the app’s Twitter handle has never replied in such a way in the past (I did check!), I’d give them the benefit of the doubt and remove the possibility that this could be a conscious ploy to drive a sudden spurt of attention (which did happen, though). Also, considering it is in Beta mode, and activation is invite-only, there’s no point in driving so much attention anyway since they may not be able to/want to activate so many new users.
However, there is another side to the argument about driving so much attention through a polarizing response – just like how positive word of mouth works by generating positive interest, negative word of mouth is very much a reality too. The Fold team will not be able to measure the number of people who would leave with a poor opinion about the app as a result of the interaction on Twitter because there is no digital trace for that reaction!
Having said that, offering incendiary, caustic, or polarizing reactions on a platform like Twitter is now considered a legitimate communications strategy these days!
One of the best demonstrations of this bizarre phenomenon is a Canadian device cover brand called dbrand! I wrote about dbrand’s incredible Twitter presence in 2018 – take a look!
Here’s a sample, just in case, including one where someone is complaining about the brand’s response tone and another person justifying it.
And just head to the brand’s Twitter replies tab to see the most updated incendiary replies that, to me these days, seem less incendiary, and more hilarious 🙂
The other brand that has been especially successful (in garnering attention, at least) with caustic tweets and replies is Ryanair. Here’s just one example of a reply to someone who says, ‘I’ll never fly you’:
There’s a lot more on their Twitter handle – in fact, unlike most brands on Twitter that are 10X cautious about airing their views on something topical, Ryanair Twitter handle runs towards the most provocative topics with total glee and completely revels in the polarizing attention it generates!
Going by Fold’s tweets and replies, I’d give them full marks for having at least some amount of spunk in their responses even as that one reply crossed a line.
Some examples, and you’d realize that the tone is quite similar to the one from dbrand:
And, as Ryanair and dbrand have demonstrated already (among other brands like this), being polarizing is a conscious strategy too. But for that to happen, the brand team first needs to decide on the basic character of the Twitter handle of the brand. This involves fixing a personality for the brand handle by imagining it as a human. How would the brand handle a range of questions and reactions from people, on a scale from intense love to abject, meaningless hate?
Why does the brand need to codify this personality? Because it may not be just one person who could be attending to the Twitter handle all the time, forever. That’s not a sustainable strategy. People come and go. But the brand handle stays. And the handle will not be consistent in terms of character if different people respond through it from time to time, bringing their own personalities to the brand.
This is corporate communications 101. At least with the older form of corporate communications (pre-social media), the limited kinds of ways a company speaks to the public included press releases, advertisements, and media interviews of the spokespersons. In all those cases, the communication could be managed by a team with enough checks and balances… and time!
With social media, things get a lot more crunched in terms of time, and a lot more impromptu, impulsive, and instinctive. This is all the more reason to codify the personality so that anyone from the team in charge of the brand handle could find a method to fit into the personality and respond appropriately.
That helps with brand voice consistency. Consistency builds perceptions. That, in turn, leads to familiarity, and eventually appreciation (moving towards like or love). For the uninitiated, dbrand’s tweets and replies may sound bizarre. But the brand has been monumentally consistent with this roast’ish tone that it has acquired a legendary reputation! Even with the roast-like tone, brands would need to have some guardrails – what are the topics that are off limits even from roasting? It would help in making a list and adding to the brand personality.
With Fold, the spunky tone exhibited in some of the older replies did not extend to the response to Dushyant – it sounded more (personally) hurt and whiny. This is where brand personality coding helps since it helps in maintaining consistency. And when the brand is consistent with the tone, as the dbrand example shows above, the brand’s fans would come to its rescue when someone not clued into the brand personality raises an issue.
It is still polarizing to have a roast-like personality for a brand that has to appeal to all in order to ensure maximum sales, but if it finds enough people rallying behind that personality, it may find itself to be a winner. Just look at the success of the political demagogues of our times, for inspiration!