A Virginia man is doing free customer service for a UK store: why?

The importance of being @johnlewis

Most companies do not like doing customer service on Twitter.

But one man in Blacksburg, Virginia has taken it upon himself to do that work for John Lewis, the largest (and very British) department store in the UK. For free, that is.  

John Lewis, a computer science professor at Virginia Tech, was a Twitter early adopter and snagged the handle @johnlewis before the US politician and civil rights leader, the strategist, and most importantly, John Lewis the store, which is the Macy’s in the UK.

“People would say ‘@johnlewis has such stylish cardigans,’ and I’d say ‘my cardigans are stylish, but I think you may be referring to @johnlewisretail.’ It kind of took off from there.” he told the Telegraph in 2014.

Amongst the Brits, John Lewis’ Christmas ads have become a heart-rending tradition over the past few years, signaling the beginning of the Christmas season.

The 2013 spot The Bear and the Hare was adored by the public, and an outpouring love for the ad started flowing towards @johnlewis (instead of @johnlewisretail), with nearly 1000 tweets coming his way the day the ad premiered, up from 144 in 2011, and just 73 in 2012.

Lewis has been taking it in his stride, politely directing people to the right place, and eventually change his bio to mention that he is “not a retail store”.

It’s a lot of work. Tweets about the store’s Christmas ads on its release date this year resulted in 17k tweets to the store itself, and 1k going to @johnlewis. At its peak, when the 2015 ad premiered, he received nearly 14,000 Twitter mentions, according to our conversation insight tool Pulsar TRAC.

As the store pursues its yearly mission to make the UK weep for Christmas, somehow the Virginia John Lewis has gotten more and more patient.

The store has sent John a few gifts (a Macbook, for instance), but a spokesperson for John Lewis (the retail store) told us: “there is no official relationship between us and Mr @johnlewis”, so we can assume that he is choosing to do their customer service work for free.

This year, Twitter UK made their own version of a John Lewis ad, starring none other than John Lewis (from Virginia).

The Twitter UK Christmas film amassed more than 1 million Tweets in its first 24 hours.

The release of the @johnlewis ad increased mentions of the man – to 7k in the first day, and mentions of the John Lewis store’s handle were only at 1k, proving the two offer a mutual support network as part of the positive story, according to data from Pulsar Trends.

John Lewis has now surpassed 50,000 followers on Twitter, adding around 10,000 followers since the film launched, the Twitter press office tells us.  


John Lewis mentions


Of course John’s not the first one to be wrongly @-ed on Twitter. other handle-related mix-ups include George Papadopoulos, Edward Snowden, British Prime Minister Theresa May being confused with glamour model Teresa May, Jon Snow of Game of Thrones fame getting mixed up with UK news anchor John Snow, and several unlucky folks on the receiving end of ire meant for Trump staffers.

So why does John Lewis (from Virginia) do it? Does he get a buzz from the attention, or does he revel in being recognized as the most ‘patient man on Twitter’?

“I can’t tell you why exactly I started participating. It seemed like they were trying to get something accomplished, and I thought I should clarify. So I clarified. Then I started having fun,” he said.

The store has not attempted to buy his username – and it would violate Twitter regulations to sell it, reports the Telegraph.

But that’s yesterday’s problem. Perhaps thankfully, John Lewis (the retail store) has since changed its handle to @jlandpartners as part of its latest rebrand to John Lewis & Partners.

John from Virginia though, is now Twitter famous in his own right.

Where next?

Introducing Twitch Data on Pulsar

Little Dark Age: Mapping the Evolution of a Meme

Introducing NewsGuard on Pulsar: a new way to understand misinformation