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How a Twitter fight over meeting-scheduling etiquette actually boosted Calendly’s brand

As Calendly discovered, a flood of negative attention on Twitter can still be a net positive.

How a Twitter fight over meeting-scheduling etiquette actually boosted Calendly’s brand
Calendly CEO Tope Awotona [Photo: Calendly]

It’s hard to get worked up about a calendar tool. Which is one reason it was notable when a big Twitter slap fight broke out recently over Calendly—a scheduling app. 

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The ensuing Calendly kerfuffle—with critics who claim the service encourages a blatant flexing of social status squaring off against loyal customers who counter that it’s simply efficient, all drawing bemused media scrutiny—at first looked like an embarrassment for the nine-year-old startup. But now that the dust has settled, the whole imbroglio actually seems like a net win for Calendly. 

In an emailed statement to Fast Company, Calendly chief marketing officer Patrick Moran noted that the company saw tens of thousands more signups than normal as a result of the bickering. “I was most inspired by the emotional connection the debate drove around our brand,” Moran said, as regular customers “passionately” defended the product. “What was really incredible was the number of customers expressing an appreciation for Calendly.”

Moran’s comments amplified the real-time reaction of CEO and founder Tope Awotona, who bragged of a “huge spike in signups” at the height of the squabble. 

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Calendly CMO Patrick Moran [Photo: Calendly]
 

In other words, the effects of a withering viral critique included solidifying customer loyalty—and bringing Calendly to the attention of a wider audience. Call it an example of the Online Squabble as Branding Event. 

The incident started a couple of weeks ago, with a tweet from entrepreneur and investor Sam Lessin. In a nutshell, Calendly lets you schedule meetings by sending invitees a link to a calendar displaying the dates and times that you have made available. Lessin is not the only person to detect a kind of de facto social-power dynamic at play here. “When someone sends you a Calendly link and asks you to slot yourself on their calendar,” he wrote, “they are telling you that you are less important than they and that all of their current meetings are ‘more important’ than whatever you need them for—it is a ‘get in line’ move.” 

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Thousands of quote retweets later, the vehement disagreement—is Calendly a gross status-display mechanism or a simple time-management helper?— has not been settled. And it won’t be any time soon. But that’s sort of the point: Even as most every angle of the debate has been covered, Calendly has become a touchstone in more general discussions of scheduling etiquette

And that’s no small thing. Figuring out the new rules of digitally mediated work, balanced against eternal struggles to stay productive, is obviously a major preoccupation. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that nobody has mastered this challenge. Arguably, even making Calendly fans aware that some others perceive the tool as rude or a power move actually helps if it makes users more thoughtful about how they issue and contextualize meeting invites. 

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“The strong reactions across Twitter underscored two things,” Moran added in the email statement. “One, the importance of what we’ve already been hard at work on with scheduling-etiquette education. And two, that we still have work to do to arm our customers with that guidance.” 

In fact, the company started a “Calendly etiquette campaign” last fall, he continued, “to teach customers how to share their Calendly availability not only effectively, but politely.” Among other things, the company has tweaked both in-app video education and certain features of the product itself, and even produced a Calendly etiquette e-book. (Don’t just blast a calendar link with “Here ya go!,” and maybe openly signal you’re open to other scheduling options if this one isn’t convenient.)

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Claiming 10 million global users, and with a reported valuation of $3 billion, Calendly wasn’t exactly obscure before this social media argument broke out. But it also wasn’t exactly a household name. And the upshot of this squabble is that it taps directly into a much deeper vein of discussion and debate about particular dimensions of the future of work, and more. If Calendly is now a universal reference point in that debate, that’s not a bad place for a brand to be.

Rob Walker writes about design, business, and other subjects; his newsletter is The Art of Noticing.

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