Is it ever acceptable for a dictionary to be a dick on social media? 

Manning your organisation’s social media control decks is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand you’re in the privileged position to be the sole voice of the company. Whether you spend all day responding to customer service queries or exercise your poetic licence to raise awareness, there’s no limits to how digital channels can be used.   

That’s the message you push in job descriptions anyway. The honest truth is that you have to bat away some curveballs sometimes. And, the bigger the brand, the more frequently you have to be ready to strike. Day in, day out, sometimes it’s tempting to just tell it like it is. 

At least that’s what US dictionary brand Merriam-Webster did last week. Sharing words of the day and language facts with its 124,000+ Twitter followers (over 6,000 more than the Oxford English Dictionary to put it into context), it tweeted a link to an article posing the question: Can ‘mad’ can be substituted for ‘angry’?

 It all started with a question 
The original tweet generated over 500 shares, but the story didn’t end there. Gabriel Roth, senior editor of political magazine Slate, jumped off the back of this question and began comparing the brand to an easygoing parent. On the surface they’re everything you’ve ever wanted but in the end you begin rebelling against them due to a lack of rules. 

Odd? Yes. Funny? Yes. Called for? Not really. But, if Twitter was reserved for relevant content, it’d be less than half the size. 

What’s brilliant about this entire social media exchange is Merriam-Webster’s six-word direct reply to Gabriel: No one cares how you feel.

 Merriam-Webster owned Gabriel Roth on Twitter 

The mic-drop of social media marketing, the community manager was able to sum up everything I was thinking while reading up on the story on PR Daily with pure swag. And, I wasn’t the only one to appreciate the droll humour, as it’s accumulated over 17,000 re-tweets in less than a week. 

Gabriel has written about his experience of being publically ‘owned’ by the brand, questioning that once a company isn’t worried about the impact its actions could have on its bottom line or reputation, all rules go out the window. 

Some would say that’s when the real fun begins. All of a sudden, the company is in control of the conversation – not the consumer. And, in this case, it gains all the kudos and none of the drama. 

That’s not to say Gabriel hasn’t gained from this exchange. He’s picked up notoriety (standard 15 minutes of fame), followers and article views. But, while he continues to respond to the viral after effects, for Merriam-Webster it’s back to business as usual. My hero. 

It just proves that the best types of PR can’t be planned. It’s trusting your best players to steer the ship, using gut instinct to manage the waves and see you through to the other side of the storm. In Merriam-Webster’s case, it didn’t even consider putting its life jacket on. 

That’s what makes this brief breakaway from convention so brilliant. 

How would your brand fare in a conversation like this? Replicate at your own risk. 

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