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The tale of Waterstones and the Texan tourist

Last week saw an American tourist from Texas get locked in the Trafalgar Square Waterstones after he wandered upstairs for a browse. When he returned downstairs, he found that all the lights had been switched off, all the staff had gone home and the doors were firmly locked. He was trapped. He took a photo of his surroundings, uploaded it to Instagram and politely tweeted Waterstones to let them know of the unfortunate situation.

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 The social media world soon exploded with hashtags such as #waterstonestexan, #freewillis and #prayfordavid all trending within the hour. People quickly became concerned for his wellbeing.

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Others took to humour to cope with the situation

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After more than 4 hours, David Willis was set free but Waterstones could of had a potential PR nightmare on their hands.

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By immediately broadcasting to Twitter that Willis was ‘a free man once more’ and thanking those who tweeted for their concern, the company took it on the chin with grace. Waterstones could of just swept the incident under the rug but instead they embraced the social media storm of #waterstonestexan. The next morning, Waterstones tweeted a link to their blog – What to read when you’ve two hours on your hands…. and are locked in a bookshop.

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Meanwhile, Audible, Amazon’s digital audiobook provider, decided to jump on the bandwagon and pop out a promoted post. Touche, Audible.

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However, Waterstones saw a marketing opportunity. A lot of tweets claimed they were jealous of David Willis for getting to explore the mystery of a closed bookshop after hours. So, Waterstones quickly teamed up with Airbnb and released a competition to win a sleepover at Waterstones!

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Embracing social media during times of viral activity is a quick and clever way to carry on marketing yourself even at the midst of a potential PR crisis. Much like the Greggs the Bakers story in August, addressing an issue quickly and confidently, while using a little tongue in cheek humour, can strengthen your brand in a way expensive PR coverage may not necessarily be able to do.

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