Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Innovation, Brands, and Failure: Twitter's Iconic Fail Whale

Failure has been on my mind a lot. Failure, from a lens of positivity, which seems counter-intuitive to what we have all been taught to believe it seems.

C. Engdahl's recent blog post Failure Is A By-Product Of Innovation, examines the post-failure phase and how we handle failure. At the Front End of Innovation Conference, this year, a NASA astronaut will speak on why "Failure Is Not an Option: It's a Necessity" when it comes to innovation. The session is part of the INNOVATION CULTURE… CREATE A BEAUTIFUL CORPORATION track, which also got me thinking about companies that embrace failure, internal and with their users.

That idea led me to think about Twitter and it's iconic Fail Whale. During Twitter outages, the company posts the now iconic image with a message about being over-capacity. The Twitter community has embraced the playful representation of this downtime to such a degree that numerous project, websites, stories, fan pages, t-shirts, etc, have been produced about it.

While users maybe dismayed by the downtime, no one really complains or stops using the product. Rather they have accepted the company's issues as growing pains caused by their rabid membership growth rate and managing a billion tweets every week with a staff of 400.

The downtime does another thing, it allows them to maintain the platform so a real major outage rarely occurs. Users know that the Fail Whale's appearance is always temporary. They have developed a relationship built on trust with the brand because of their transparency and the immediacy by which they openly acknowledge their troubles. While the Fail Whale's popularity has grown to epic proportions as has Twitter's user base, it seems they fail often to avert any epic fails and that in itself is innovative.

How has your company embraced its failures?
How much downtime have you built into your processes?
What other companies embrace their troubles and expect them?

Valerie M. Russo is a Senior Social Media Strategist at IIR USA with a technology, anthropology, marketing and publishing business acumen. She is a published poet and also maintains a literary blog. She may be reached at Follow her @Literanista.

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