TEA BREAK: Yes, Yorkshire Tea handling trolls was great but here’s why it won’t work in the public sector


You may have seen the very warm public response Yorkshire Tea got this week after enduring some severe trolling.

If you missed it, the brand got a kicking after the Chancellor Rishi Sunak was pictured with a big bag of tea bags.

The attack follows a backlash at Heck Sausages for hosting Boris Johnson. In turbulent times, brands being associated with a politician of any colour is a risk. Sure, they were different. One was a photo opp and one was a politician drinking tea but the broad principle stands.

How Yorkshire Tea handled it

Getting fed-up with the online kicking the Yorkshire Tea social media manager drew a line in the sand, pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn had also drunk their brew and asked people to be kinder.

Their human response won applause and sympathy. Being human online should be easy but often isn’t and their response was masterful. It’s no fun being at the centre of a Twitter pile-on. I know. I’ve been there. I’ve blogged before on the unique pressures a social media manager or admin faces. To make an account work they need to put something of themselves into the account. Criticism is easier to make and can be felt more deeply.

So, is Yorkshire Tea the template for the public sector? Actually, I’m not sure.

Why the public sector can’t be Yorkshire Tea

For starters, I’m going to rule out the suggestion that public sector accounts can’t be human in their tone. They absolutely can when the time is right and there’s lots of examples of just that.

But the sticking point is this: Yorkshire Tea do tea bags and the public sector don’t.

The public sector do some amazing life saving things.

But since 2008, they’ve also closed libraries, not always respond to pothole complaints, explained why the bus service has been cut, asked people not to turn-up at A&E because its closed, explained a department’s Brexit policy to exporters and told people about the nine pump fire that’s blocking the motorway.

Sometimes, the human voice is achievable but sometimes its not.

If you look after a public sector account, be fine with people disagreeing with policy. They’re allowed to. It’s a democracy. The world does not smell of paint.

Don’t be fine when people shout, swear or start being anti-social. You’re an employee not a virtual punchbag.

How the public sector can respond

The Centre for Countering Online Hate produced cracking guidance on how to respond to online hate. Ignore it. Don’t give it oxygen. Switch off notifications. Don’t show you’re hurt because that’s exactly what they want. The report is here.

What they also suggest is getting some offline reassurance and support. I’m down with that. That’s when tea is relevant. Make a cup of tea with a friend or colleague.

So, do nothing?

Not exactly.

Over the past 10 years I’ve realised there’s there’s two ways to respond when someone has got something wrong. Firstly, be polite. Secondly, be factual. If you’ve been an engaging presence online you’ll have some social capital with your followers that may be turned into supportive comments.

What you’re doing is politely drawing a line in the sand and setting the record straight.

Be polite.

Be factual.

That’s it.

From experience, THIS is the best way the public sector can respond.

Good luck.

Very white for me, please. Quarter of a sugar.




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