PayGapApp goes viral: how a Twitter bot exposed brand hypocrisy on International Women’s Day

Warm words? Meet cold hard data. As marketers flocked to social media yesterday to #BreakTheBias, a plucky little bot was quietly tweeting out the actual pay divide at each company… and people shared the stats in droves.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a chance to highlight gender issues and empower women in the workplace. For performance marketers, it’s also a chance to promote their own initiatives via organic and paid social media posts.

But this year, a data-led bot campaign led to many brands deleting their posts after it exposed some uncomfortable truths.

A lockdown project one year in the making

Creators Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome came up with the idea of @PayGapApp as a ‘lockdown project’ before International Women’s Day last year. The bot uses a 2017 UK law that forces companies to report the pay difference between men and women.

The pay discrepancies for over 13,000 companies were made publicly available in a database, from which Lawson and Fensome downloaded a CSV file containing the data.

With a background in both social media management and software development, the pair then created a code to have the bot match the name of the company and name on Twitter with its pay gap data.

Since then, the automated bot account has been calling out companies on Twitter and revealing the percentage of how much less women get paid as compared to men.

The data is broken down into the pay gap based on median hourly pay, the percentage of women in the highest to lowest paying jobs, and a bonus pay gap.

“Deeds not words”

The bot’s bio reads: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women's Day, I'll retweet your gender pay gap”.

The account’s cover photo includes the message: “Deeds not words. Stop posting platitudes. Start fixing the problem.”

The bot is agnostic about an organisation’s mission. On IWD this year, companies that have been called out range from colleges and charities to fashion brands and banks, with the gap in pay being as high as 73.2%. The bot also highlights organisations that pay employees almost equitably.

Branding backfires

By the end of the day on Tuesday, the app had gone viral, with more than 120,000 followers on Twitter. It had also sent out hundreds of tweets in one day, exposing companies with information about their hourly median gender pay gaps.

It also highlighted organisations that had stronger gender pay equality:

"Easy to see how effective it was by how impacted organisations reacted"

The PayGapApp phenomenon highlights the frailty of branding campaigns and the need for brands to account for competitor activity or disruptors affecting their media spend and content calendars.

Vic Miller, VP PR & Communications at GWI, said: The genius of this campaign was that it was so simple, yet so effective. It was also truly addictive and I know that myself and a lot of others were glued - scrolling to see the biggest percentages juxtaposed against IWD messages. It's also easy to see how effective it was by how impacted organisations reacted - quickly removing and editing posts in a panic. It's the first campaign in some time that has been so broadly shared and commented on - with such admiration - across my work and personal networks. It's also a much needed reminder for us all that we need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

"Watching companies scramble to delete their fluffy IWD Tweets"

The buzz attracted some high profile commentators.

Caitlin Moran, writer and journalist, tweeted: “Today’s #IWD2022 amusement – watching companies scramble to delete their fluffy IWD Tweets after @PayGapApp re-tweets them – but with their gender pay-gap stats attached. I deeply salute whoever thought of this. It’s deadly genius.”

While this tweet from Twitter user Helen Gradwell summed up the day very succinctly: