The story was predictably silly: Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak poses with a big bag of tea, and anti-Tory Twitterati say they will never drink that brand again, dropping a fair few expletives in their ranty responses to a completely imagined outrage.
What have we learnt from this storm in a Yorkshire Tea cup? On the surface of it, not much: people will lose their marbles at the drop of a hat, and social media is no harbour for common sense. But quietly, and in dignified contrast to all those losing their heads and blaming it on them, the person, or persons, running the @YorkshireTea Twitter handle were writing a social media masterclass.
Having spent 20 years working across reputation management in boardrooms, private jets, Davos and Number 10, here is my extensive list of everything they did right:
- Acted like grown ups
- That’s it.
To be fair, they were helped by the asinine and comedic logic of their detractors, which seemed to run along the lines of “if a Conservative politician walked into my own home I would demolish it because it is my house’s fault that I disagree with some of the current government’s policies”. But social media is no friend to the cold light of rationality, it is more typically the retreat of the very worst playground bullies: the cowards who never had the balls to start a fight but learnt the chants straight away.
It was refreshing to see clear language expose such idiocy: “We have to accept that some people are going to ditch our brew because it was in the same room as a man they don’t like” was one reply made by @YorkshireTea, who then emphasised the only thing more British than a cup of tea: decency. “We’d be really grateful if you’d respect the spirit of our Twitter thread and do so privately – there’s no need to let us know.” Orwell would have been proud. Though, nothing will beat the Partridge-esque put down of “Sue, you’re shouting at tea” for the power of fact over nonsense. I’ll be putting my order in for the t-shirt for that one. More than a pithy comeback, it’s now been adopted as a catchphrase for the ages, ready to be deployed at people getting their knickers in a twist over some faux issue on social media. At the time of writing, #SueYoureShoutingAtTea is top of the trending list, with more than 6,000 people joining in. There’s even a song.
Many brands wouldn’t have replied at all the vitriol being thrown at them, but Yorkshire Tea showed they cared about the issue without taking it personally: they had the moral high-ground, but they sought to share it. They chose not to reveal the handles of the worst offenders, and they ended up with a lot more lovers than haters – KFC, PG Tips and Pizza Express all reached out to offer support, free lunches – and, of course, cups of tea. This, as well as the cool, measured responses, have seen the brand come through stronger. There’s been a lot of sharing and caring around the Yorkshire Tea accounts with tea-drinkers and social media users alike enjoying the chance to celebrate rationality over rampage. I predict a well-earned rise in sales.
We’ve all been guilty of posting a reactionary tweet that purveys a hot head over a coolly reasoned point. It would have been so easy for Yorkshire Tea to have done so, but instead they stayed calm and light-hearted and rose above it all. They’ve done wonders for their brand, and they’ve done what most brands will never do: validate their use of social media.
Could this be the sea change the world has been waiting for? I have previously discussed the notion of a covenant among users when it comes to responsible use of Twitter et al, but perhaps there’s a much simpler way to improve our conduct online: ask yourself: “What would @YorkshireTea do?” One thing is for sure: with outrage an occupational hazard for keyboard warriors, “Sue, you’re shouting at tea” is the phrase to define social media in 2020.