What Roller Coasters Can Teach You About Twitter and Social Media

Yesterday, I took a break from computer screens, social media conversations, and blogging to visit Six Flags Great America with friends. Never forget to take a break from your work.

I don’t have photos of the trip for you (yet), but I do have some insight I gained while I waited in line for the Iron Wolf roller coaster. In order for this insight ot mean anything, I need to explain a little about my day yesterday.

When we first arrived at Six Flags, the first roller coaster we went to was Superman: Ultimate Flight (they flip you so there’s absolutely nothing underneath you). Little did we know that we’d be in line for over two hours. Why? Because the roller coaster broke down while we were in line. Twice. The first time took about 25 minutes for them to fix the roller coaster. The second time it took 15. Strangely, we didn’t leave the line. Why? Because we were already so deep into the line that leaving would have meant wasting all of that time standing in line. So we toughed it out and we got our coaster ride, but we left with a bad taste in our mouths (though the staff were very courteous about the situation and talked with people in the line to answer questions). Several others left though and, of course, a lot of people didn’t join the line for the roller coaster for the rest of the day. It also didn’t help that Superman only ran with one car for the rest of the day.

Picked up on the analogy yet? I am talking about the one and only Twitter. Twitter is the microblogging service that has been lambasted by the blogosphere for being down far too often. I’ve been highly critical of Twitter – No internet service should need to turn off features on a consistent basis to stay up.

A few observations based on my Superman: Ultimate Flight experience and turn them into advice for Twitter:

  • If you go down, you lose people. When Superman: Ultimate Flight broke, nobody new entered the line because it would be a waste – they went elsewhere. People in the line at the time left and went to other rides. Most stayed, but became annoyed and complained. The same is true of Twitter. Facebook went down this morning, and for every minute it is down, it loses about 200 new users. Now how many potential users do you think Twitter has lost because of its downtime and bad press? Not only that, but it has lost people who would have been repeat customers. I know I would have gone onto Superman another time if it had not broke down.
  • You can’t run on partial capacity and expect people to be happy. People weren’t happy that only one car was running on Superman for the rest of the day. People aren’t happy that Twitter has had to turn off multiple services the last few weeks. If you promise something or release a new service, you better deliver. Your customers expect it.
  • People will stay if they’re committed. I’m not going to leave the line when I’m on the platform for a roller coaster, even if it did just break down. I will wait it out and hope they can fix it. People have thousands of followers and friends on Twitter – they’re not going to just abandon it. But they will not return as often or speak as highly of it to their friends.
  • Good customer service can help minimize damage, but it doesn’t heal damage either. When the staff came to talk with us, we were distracted, we were less angry, we were even pleased that they’d come out. But it didn’t make us tell people how great Superman was as a roller coaster and it didn’t convince us to come back. Twitter’s downtime whale and openness to answering questions may be appreciated, but it doesn’t absolve them for their mistakes.

We tried out a variety of other roller coasters with smaller lines for the rest of the day and had incredible experiences on nearly all of them. So I want you to think of your product as a roller coaster – As the line gets bigger, you’ve got to do more to please your customers or you will lose them. Even if you have an incredible service. Breakdowns and delays are unacceptable and no amount of openness or customer service can forgive you for those two sins.

But unlike roller coasters, you can’t just start off with a fresh customer base that doesn’t know about the events that transpired the previous day. You can’t just wipe the slate clean. All you can do is prove that the coaster is safe again.