Wightlink’s Social Media Blunder

Is Wightlink’s Social Media Policy Bad for Isle of Wight Tourism?

Wightlink had a problem on social media last weekend – and they didn’t even notice.

Things started out badly enough when the linkspan at Portsmouth collapsed, causing gridlock at the Portsmouth Terminal.  Island Echo led the way, sharing the news on Twitter, including this rather dramatic photograph from Steve Wright.

linkspan collapse

Thankfully the problem was swiftly resolved and service restored, with only a modest amount of ranting on Facebook and Twitter from irate customers.

So where did things go wrong?  It all started a couple of days earlier with, ironically enough, a very satisfied customer.

A Picture of Happiness

Andy Pearsall is a Course leader of BA Photojournalism at the University of South Wales. He’s a school governor, a family man and a keen photographer and videographer.  In July, he brought his young family for a holiday to the Isle of Wight and they clearly had a great time.  How do we know that?  Because Andy, video and tech enthusiast that he is, recorded their holiday on his iPhone and his Go Pro, edited the footage into a beautiful short film, uploaded it to Vimeo and shared what he had done on social media.

Pearsall Video Screenshot 02


As you would expect, most of those who were featured in the video were delighted to have been included.  They responded warmly, happy to share Andy’s video with their own audience of followers.

The Isle of Wight Council were keen to show their support… Pearsall IW Council

…and Island Eye were quick off the mark too, also going on to name check Visit Wight and its Chief Executive, David Thornton.

Pearsall Island EyeThis is the kind of thing that social media is really good at – spreading good content amongst communities who share common interests. David Thornton published the video to his own audience and also made sure to mention another of the leading attractions featured in the film – Godshill Model Village.

Pearsall David Thornton

But it wasn’t just local businesses that got involved.  National leisure chain, Park Resorts, also congratulated and thanked Andy for his efforts, generously sharing the news with their 13,000+ followers.

Pearsall Park Resorts & Model Village

Until now the story had been progressing as you might expect.  A satisfied customer produced a beautiful promotional video which was widely applauded and shared on social media.

So what happened when he contacted Wightlink?


In the spirit of goodwill and generosity Wightlink congratulated Andy, and then politely declined his invitation to share.  You can see the exchange for yourself.

Pearsall Wightlink

They asked him to send the original file so they would be able to publish it directly on their own social media channels, and we’re sure this would have been lovely of them.  But it really misses the point of what social media is all about.

If you want to be a success on social media, you have to learn to share!


So why is sharing other people’s content such an important part of successful social media marketing?  Why is Wightlink’s policy damaging to them, as well as a missed opportunity for the tourism industry on the Isle of Wight as a whole?  It’s all a question of marketing, psychology and what some people refer to as persuasion science.

Robert Cialdini is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University.  He is best known as the author of the seminal work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.  The book has sold over two million copies and has been translated into twenty-six languages. In it, Cialdini sets out six forms of communication which influence our behaviour.  His theories pre-date by some years the birth of social media.  However, they explain with uncanny accuracy why and how social media is such an effective means of influencing an audience.

Three of Cialdini’s principles help to explain why sharing content on Facebook and Twitter is good for business.

  • Liking
    We tend to like people who (a) are like us; (b) like us; and (c) co-operate with us to achieve shared goals. Guess what, people and businesses who are liked are more effective at persuading others. (When did you last buy something from a salesman you didn’t like?)
    In the world of social media, Isle of Wight tourism businesses who support one another publicly for the greater purpose of promoting Isle of Wight tourism will have more credibility and will be more successful in marketing themselves online. 
  • Reciprocity
    When someone does a good deed for us, we are psychologically programmed to try to do something nice in return. When someone pays us a compliment, we feel obliged to return it. Every random act of kindness deserves to be rewarded. By being generous towards others, you encourage them to behave generously towards you.
    On Facebook and Twitter that means supporting what your peers are doing, commenting warmly and positively about their efforts and sharing what they are doing with your own network. 
  • Social Proof
    All of us are highly influenced by the beliefs and behaviour of their peers (although many of us don’t realise it and the rest of us would prefer not to admit it).  The television programmes we watch, the music we listen to, the clothes we buy even the sports teams we support – all are heavily influenced by the opinions of those around us.
    When we see our friends and community leaders behaving a certain way on social media, for example by promoting and sharing a promotional video – we are more likely to receive that message sympathetically and to act upon it.  

If you think about it for a moment it all makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? And it’s not even that complicated. In fact, you could boil an entire social media strategy down to three little words: “Just Be Nice”.

Wightlink is a big organisation with enormous resources and some talented individuals so we were surprised to see them making what we consider a pretty fundamental error. We reached out to them for an explanation, but received no response.

So maybe Wightlink dropped the ball on this one, but surely that’s just their problem, right? Wrong!

Wightlink is possibly the organisation that has the greatest single impact on the Isle of Wight Tourism industry. They are founder members of Visit Isle of Wight with board representation and contribute enormously to Visit IOW’s budget. They are also the gatekeepers to the Island and the way that their staff behave at the ports and the way they behave online, has a direct impact on how the Isle of Wight as a whole is judged by tourists and potential tourists.

At best this is a missed opportunity. But if it reflects a wider policy of exclusiveness, could it perhaps be damaging not just to Wightlink’s own reputation, but to Isle of Wight Tourism as a whole?

Whatever sector you are operating in, there are some simple and important lessons to learn and some easy actions you can take to benefit your own business.

  • Make a list of the businesses in your community with whom you share common goals.
  • Schedule time on a regular basis to follow what each of them is doing.
  • Interact with them regularly, making a positive contribution.
  • Be Generous. Give first and you will receive.
  • Learn to Share. When people say nice things about you, encourage them, thank them and share what they said.
  • If you’re not sure how to handle a situation, remember – “Just Be Nice”.

Before you even think about the many strategies and techniques to achieve social media marketing success, you need to think about the underlying principles which will determine how you conduct yourself and how your brand is perceived online. Social Media is no friend to the selfish.


There have been some valuable lessons here about the importance of social sharing.  But let’s not forget that at the heart of this story is a great video about a wonderful family holiday on the Isle of Wight.  So just how good is Andy Pearsall’s video?  Well we think it’s pretty great – and we’re not the only ones.  Award-winning local media experts OnTheWight had this to say about it:

Pearsall On The Wight CommentWe think Andy should be proud of himself for his efforts and everyone featured in his fabulous film should be grateful to him for sharing his work.  If you haven’t seen it yet, sit back for five minutes, put your feet up and enjoy.  Then ask yourself, if one of your customers made a video like this about your business, what would you do?

Isle of Wight 2015 from andrew pearsall on Vimeo.


We’re sure Wightlink will be able to weather a bit of constructive criticism (and it’s still not too late for them to get in on the act and turn this story into something positive), but they weren’t the only ones who could have handled this situation better.

We didn’t see any response on social media from Visit Wight, which is a shame and at first glance surprising.  If you take a look at their Twitter stream you will see they are reasonably active.  But look more closely and you will see all their posts are generated automatically via their Facebook page.  This can be a useful time-saving trick, but it means you end up missing out on all those potential customers who are trying to interact with you on Twitter.  An easy mistake to fix.

And what about that beloved old dinosaur, Blackgang Chine?  They are active on Facebook, but it looks like they’ve given up on Twitter altogether.  There was no response from them at all.  We think they’re missing out.


Do you think Wightlink dropped the ball, or do you think their policy is justified? Is their strategy good for Isle of Wight Tourism as a whole?

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One Response to “Wightlink’s Social Media Blunder”

  1. David Thornton

    Thanks for your Interesting article. I don’t actually believe that Wightlink’s approach to not wanting to share videos, but actually feature them on their own site, damages tourism prospects, but I agree that the more shares and circulation that we all collaborate on the better for the Island’s profile and prospects (generally!).

    Regarding our own sharing… as well as my own twitter handle, we also operate one with our travel ambassadors, one with Bicycle Island, one for the Industry professionals on the Island (@visitwightpro) and the main consumer twitter feed @visitIOW. We try to maintain a good spread of messages across these platforms, but in recent weeks, with a brand new website, we’ve been concentrating on that aspect of our digital strategy.

    All good advice though, and we will certainly try to find more time to directly share inspiring videos, stories and images directly rather than through our automated Facebook links.

    (CEO of Visit Isle of Wight)


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