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Social Media Management Crisis Case Study

Today we talk about political-products – these are figures that can be ‘sold’ in a market where the voter/citizen becomes in effect a customer who chooses a candidate or a political party like they were choosing a brand of shampoo. Knowing how to manage social media and marketing is as important for political parties as it is for shampoos.

That is why we would like to tell you about an uncommon protest being made by some Italian netizens who have flooded the internet with photos of cute cats on Facebook and Twitter.

This protest highlights:

      1. How to manage social media during a ‘crisis’
      2. How social media designs the feelings associated with a brand/political
      3. Social media is an open spaces where you can contact customers/followers. What it can't be is the territory and the self-representation of brands/politicians


In the beginning of the Internet, someone created the lolcats

You may think the term ‘Lolcats’ is a modern invention but Time magazine used it in an article way back in the 1990s. However, it did not invent either as the term comes from the early 1870s when British portrait photographerHarry Pointer had the idea of dressing cats up for his photographs. Indeed, had he been living in our generation, he and his family would be very wealthy indeed.

And around the 28th year of Internet, the future US President said "Yes We Can"

Nowadays, social media plays an extremely large and vital role in election campaigns. We cannot even imagine an election campaign without it.

In spite of the current importance of such campaigns, it was only after the US President Campaign in 2008 that the significance of these media was fully understood. Barack Obama won that election however thanks to the media campaign, every time you think of Obama you think of his slogan ‘Yes We Can’ more than you think of any decisions he has made during his term in office.

You may think that statement far-fetched but the average internet user associates Barack Obama with ‘Yes We Can’ just as much as they associate ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ with McDonalds.

The Italian background

Italian politicians have changed the way they relate with their nation by focusing on their own self-promotion through these new social tools. The Prime Minister himself, Matteo Renzi, is very well-known for his frequent activity on Twitter. He creates hashtags for each of the reforms and laws passed by his government. He does this so often that his adversaries say he is ‘nothing but a lot of talk and tweets’.

So you can see how the use of social media by politicians can help, or hinder, their popularity with the voting public.

The brand/political candidate and the Facebook page

So far, the Italian netizens have carried out four protests using social media. We’re going to concentrate on and analyse one that was targeted at Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Lega Nord, the Italian anti-immigration party:

Matteo Salvini is politically active on social media and, in fact, this is the reason that his popularity has increased [figure 1]. He cleverly uses social media to deliver his political messages. These messages make him a person who is either hated or loved, there is no in-between. The tone of his messages are so strong that they manage to feed and propagate thanks to a very active but also very angry fan base.

Lately, in spite of Italian laws, Salvini has made it known he is supporting the neo-fascists and his fan base, in order to show they support him, post memes with Mussolini along with the promise of death to all immigrants.

Matteo Salvini also spreads unverified news in order to overwhelm his followers. For example he actually stated that the EUwas going to make the bread toaster illegal!

It is for these reasons that the Progetto Kitten (Kitten Project) has set itself up to show they are a community whose intentions are to bring cute and cuddly kittens as messengers of love to those who support Salvini’s violent messages.

Facebook page and Twitter account official Matteo Salvini

Analysing Matteo Salvini's Facebook page we can see the following features:

      • Conspiracy Theory Netiquette: This is an un-official shared web formatting that goes against the Netiquette. This kind of formatting has been designed to really maximise the emphasis.
        • Whole words (and sentences) in capital letters
        • Creative punctuation, made from repeated exclamatory or interrogative punctuation. They use this kind of punctuation to compensate for the absence of direct contact and to give a strong indication of their mood (angry or surprised)
      • Frequent use of nominal syntax, brief texts and simple language to quickly introduce a theme
      • Frequent use of rhetorical questions to involve the audience (e.g. Do you think that is relevant? What business is it of theirs?)
      • Other political activists or journalists have views completely at odds with Salvini's one. Everything on this page has been described as either black or white. This is actually a communication strategy that is very popular among the populist parties and shadows, very closely, the same principles as Goebbels used during World War II
      • Use of scurrilous terms to emphasise moods

 This writing style reflects that of Salvini’s social network vision: it's not an open space to publish content aimed at a large audience. Salvini sees social networks as a platform of pure self-representation.

He understands exactly what his audience think and want to read. He knows the words they frequently use, however this doesn’t mean he is going to enlarge his database of followers in the near future. If he keeps on using the style he is using now, he won't enlarge his base of followers.


When a political candidate uses social networks in the way they should be used (open spaces), he will get the maximum attention. If you find that hard to believe then check out what Matt Cutts from Google tweeted about a US Senator.

Matt Cutts Tweet on a US Senator

What Kitten Project has done

The Kitten Project attacked Salvini’s Facebook page and Twitter news feed using the hashtag #gattinisusalvini (#kittensonsalvini). It was an unparalleled invasion on the territory of the Lega Nord leader’s self-representation.

You can understand this better if you read Salvini and his staff’s reaction to the invasion. For the moment though, we are going to illustrate the steps taken by the Kitten Project.

To begin with, the group created an event on Facebook called ‘Kittens on Salvini’ that was planned to go live on  7th of May.

The event lasted approximately 24 hours, which was 23 hours more than the administrators had originally thought. The users bombarded Salvini’s Facebook page and his Twitter account with thousands of cute cat images along with comments.

The hashtag #gattinisusalvini became a trending topic [Figure 2].


The irony behind this initiative is clear and it is also very interesting to see how the world has defined it in different ways: Virtual FlashMob, a ‘trolling campaign’ in foreign newspapers or a simple trolling for the average Facebook user.

This sort of action/protest, usually called ‘Shitstorm’ and made out of offensive derogatory and violent content and tones, isn’t new in the context of social networks.

The types of collective actions made on social media by Kitten project supporters have the following features:

    • shared objective
    • action plan with timing and strategic moves
    • recreational and fun nature

The difference between the two sides is like night and day. The Shitstorm community are faceless and post articles that are vulgar and are written to offend people. Whereas the Kitten community post the exact opposite and don’t go out of their way to offend. They act more like young teenagers playing a prank on their friends.

The high numbers sharing the Kitten project show the power of the Kitten content. The initiative The Kitten Project, made for Salvini, involved around 26K users (Source: Kitten Project Facebook page).

Many brands would happily pay an agency to arrange a social network event that lasts one or two hours and involves 26K users. The most likely scenario would see brands holding a competition to maximise the number of users.

On Social Media Content always Matters

Although, "There's no such thing as a free lunch" is a popular English proverb, we see Internet as a Freeland where everything is free. We apparently think that social shares haven't any cost to them, apart from a couple of seconds of our time. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

To post a cute picture, such as a kitten, doesn't require any ethical or moral involvement. The creative efforts are tiny. Plus, that kind of action will not put you at any risk of being banned from the social network.

Kittens are the ideal content for these kind of actions because they are the exact opposite of what Salvini and his fan base represents, through their posting of violent and offensive content. Kittens on the internet try to bring out the touchy-feely side of you, whereas the Salvini Facebook page is designed to get a strong reaction from you and to bring out your darkest mood.

Some numbers

The number of posts and interactions generated in the period evaluated is: 1,075 posts with a peak of interactions on 7th of May 2015. [Figure 3]


How Salvini replied to the attack

Neither Salvini nor his staff have an answer when questioned about this attack. So, this will actually help us to show the dos and don’ts of Social Media Management.

The very first action that was taken by the admin was a sort of declaration of war:

      • Violent posting in reply to the catmobbers’ posts. They define themselves as catmobbers [refer to the article image]
      • The banning of many users.

Salvini declaration of War to kittens

Straight away, we can tell you this is the worst possible move you could make. Social Networks are open spaces. Many companies use Facebook and Twitter to support clients. No-one would ever reply in that way to a customer in a customer service office. Social networks are even more important than your customer service office, because anyone in the world can read them.

In addition, the netiquette reads that someone is only banned when they are offensive, violent or goes against your policies. For example, asking viewers not to post certain links and they go ahead and do.

Given that, the first answer to the attack was an epic fail:

      • Salvini banned only users who posted ‘harmless kittens’. He didn't touch those among his fan base who posted offensive content.
      • The reaction to the ban gave the Kitten Project admin reason to celebrate!


Indeed, the collective action forced the official Lega Nord web staff to ‘accept’ the Kitten’s ‘game’ and, after the initial reaction and a failed counter attack by Salvini, they directly managed the page.

What the Lega Nord Staff did

We have to admit that we can see the difference between a professional web marketer and a political candidate.

If you would like further information on this, then please do not hesitate to go to the link and find out more.

The Lega Nord staff did the only reasonable thing:

      1. Say yes to the kittens and stop banning users [Figure 5]
      2. Give access to their own fan base for the Kitten’s game [Figure 6]
      3. Embed the Kitten’s language into the typical Salvini linguistic register [Figure 7]


Matteo Salvini could have adopted this tactic from the very beginning. The three steps taken by Lega Nord were correct. Basically, you can’t skip any one of those steps, because you will have had to engage your fan base before.


The use of kitten images integrated into their expansive register brought out the softer side of Salvini, turning the collective action into something more positive for the Lega Nord leader.


The Kitten Project didn't end with this action. A few days later they targeted the leader of the second biggest Italian populist party M5S started by Beppe Grillo, a popular activist, comedian and blogger, along with Vittorio Sgarbi, a former politician and TV personality.

The mechanics of the process and the reactions of the protagonists, brought out the need for public figures (brand or person) to have specific expertise in social media, in order to be able to have a good relationship with their audience, and to manage any unforeseen crisis.

If you would like to have more information on this subject or you would like to take advantage of our Social Media services please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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