I’ve noticed a trend in the ad world lately towards every man and his business jumping on the social media bandwagon. A great many of these businesses have then made ‘social media blunders’ that have made national news.
Well, here’s my perspective.

Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you should use it

From a business perspective, social media can be a great thing. For small businesses in particular, using the relatively low cost promotional avenue of Facebook or Twitter for specials and promoting sales events is fantastic. The problem comes when the larger companies and corporations jump on board, without really considering if social media has a place in their overall marketing strategy. The hard fact is, for many companies, they really shouldn’t use it at all. Why, you might ask? The risks of completely open communication.

Consider the case of a company providing vital utilities, such as power or gas. There is

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emotion associated with these companies. They are considered by many to be corrupt and don’t help the little guy. Realistically, the larger portion of the population doesn’t ‘like’ their power company at all, yet they need electricity. This creates a bit of tension.
Then what happens when there’s a problem? The customer has had a bad experience, such as being overcharged or getting poor customer service. They’re even more dissatisfied than usual. They verbally complain to their spouse, their friends, their coworkers. Before social media came along, that would generally be the end of it. Or if the customer is particularly motivated, they might issue a formal complaint to the company in question. In all these cases, the issue wouldn’t generally go beyond a dozen people before being either resolved or forgotten.

Enter Facebook.

Instead of making the complaint to the offending company, the customer takes to their facebook account, locates the company’s facebook page and posts a scathing complaint. All of a sudden, the issue is made painfully public. Even more so thanks to the various sharing functions available. Now this horrendously negative testimonial has been viewed and ‘liked’ by over four thousand people. Not only that, spurred on by the bravery of the first customer, others comment and share their bad experiences. In a matter of hours, the company has a major PR disaster on its hands. At this point, damage control kicks in and the company makes one of two major errors.
They either:

  1. Delete the negative comment
  2. Don’t delete it

Because you see, in this situation, you almost can’t win with social media. If they remove the comment, they are seen as ‘covering up’ which compounds the problem. If they leave it up, they run the risk of it growing further and destroying the goodwill of satisfied customers. What can they do? At this point, saving the situation is difficult. In my opinion, the company should contact that first customer and find an exorbitant way to make them happy. Six months free power for example, or an all expenses paid holiday. Then leverage that goodwill on their facebook page. Turn the negative into a positive.

In the end, the risk is still there. There will always be dissatisfied customers and they will always complain. A basic truth of our society is that bad news is much more interesting than good. We love to see the powerful fall. To make things worse, new regulations were recently passed that say a company is liable for anything on their social media channels, including the comments of others.

So what’s the solution? Don’t participate. Social media is a public forum for communication of any type, including negative. Many companies are susceptible to ‘social media failures’ simply because of the nature of their business. Telecommunications, utilities, supermarkets and so on. The public simply doesn’t like them. They are a necessity, not a desirable.

Keep the 1800 complaint lines and corporate website forms. Provide avenues for complaint and resolution. These can be managed and keep private. Let the ‘unofficial’ pages on social media happen because, let’s face it, who can stop them?

Nike has a ‘War room’ in their head offices in America. It is a room covered in computer screens, each one displaying a different social media channel. Any time a mention of Nike or any of their products happens, they know. If a negative comment comes up, they address it straight away. This is the smart way to manage social media. But the resources required to do this are phenomenal.

Final thoughts? These companies should really, REALLY consider if social media is an intelligent and valuable part of their

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overall marketing strategy. If not, then just don’t do it.