Your company's worst social media nightmare

June 13, 2010

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In the blog post ‘Building rapport with social media’ we talked about how to listen to the unwritten rules, language and methods of interacting on social media channels where your customers spend the majority of their time. Today we’re going to show you what not to do, and what could happen if you don’t ‘do’ some key things on public forums.

Keep in mind that social media fulfils our desire to connect. If you’re considering purchasing a new item, most tech savvy people will go online and see what other customers said about their experience with the product. Social media offers the chance to hear what real people say about products for sale, rather than listening to the advertising and finding out the hard way that the product is a lemon.

Women are the fastest growing category on social media networks. 50% of female social media users say they have purchased products because of information on social networking sites. 95% of these women are on Facebook. In the current environment, what is said on social media networks about your brand is taken as first-hand experience or absolute truth.

Take for example film maker Kevin Smith, who has more than 1.6 million followers on Twitter, who tweeted that he was kicked off a SouthWest Airlines flight for being too fat:

"Dear @SouthwestAir – I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?

Wanna tell me I’m too wide for the sky? Totally cool. But fair warning, folks: IF YOU LOOK LIKE ME, YOU MAY BE EJECTED FROM @SOUTHWESTAIR."

SouthWest Airlines, with more than 1 million followers themselves, responded quickly with:

"@ThatKevinSmith hey Kevin! I’m so sorry for your experience tonight! Hopefully we can make things right, please follow so we may DM!"

They continued to share that they were trying to contact each other directly over eight times in 24 hours, and SouthWest Airlines quashed the story, which by now was picked up by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ABC and other major outlets, by posting an apology on their blog and linking to it on the twitter feed.

"Our apology to @ThatKevinSmith and more details regarding the events from last night – #Southwest"

This turned a situation which could negatively impact their reputation into a single bad experience. They used it as an opportunity to improve their customer service. The key was that they continued to engage in the conversation and didn’t defend it – they worked toward a solution.

Turn a problem into an opportunity

Similarly, when two Dominos Pizza staff filmed themselves doing a prank with food preparation and uploaded it to YouTube they called to question the hygiene and management practices at Domino's Pizza. The news spread quickly over television and news networks globally. Domino’s USA President responded quickly to isolate the incident and to let people know exactly what they were doing about the problem. This YouTube video overlays customer sentiment with his video response:


You will notice that when he talks about the jobs of his workers, people identify with him, when he uses words like ‘sickens’ and ‘regaining trust’ he is less believed. The lesson is to really understand your audience and react openly and swiftly. The use of video was an interesting choice as well because there is less ambiguity on video than a written press release on the incident – you are reaching out and connecting with people with visual and auditory clues.

You have to make your presence on social media be an extension of your brand, in a direct, meaningful and approachable way, respecting the forum you are operating within.

You can't control what people say about your brand - but you must let them speak

When Wal-mart first had a presence on Facebook, they strayed from their brand too far and there was a backlash. Their marketing department clearly thought that there were going to be negative comments so, in an attempt to control what was being said about them, they disabled commenting everywhere except on the wall and negative posts were deleted. The public noticed and started slating them publicly. The more moderated the forum was by Wal-mart, the more the public felt their freedom of speech was being compromised. The best thing to do in this instance would have been to implement customer surveys and improve service levels offline before moving their conversation online. If customer satisfaction issues arose, they should have responded quickly to deal with them and used the opportunity to improve service across the board rather than trying to delete them.

Respond quickly and sincerely and you will be trusted more than before

One social media savvy employee at a utilities company weathered upset customers who had power outages for days. He was able to protect sentiment toward the brand on social media even though he couldn't turn their power back on. This is a powerful example of how to use social media to your business advantage. 

Businesses that earn the trust of the online community will be rewarded with insight into increasing their business' esteem as well as having citizen champions that will defend your brand. To advance in the social media space, your business needs a seasoned community manager, a crisis plan and the wherewithal to face up to exactly what is being said about them, offline or online.

Don’t forget that social media is all about our desire to connect with similar people. If you can build rapport with your customers, bounce back from a challenge, you will develop trust and they may just share the experience with their networks – the most efficient marketing strategy yet.

Tell us what your business' worst social media nightmare is?

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