Social Media Fails

February 11th, 2011

Topics: Measurement, Trends

Can one tweet in the social ocean cause a multi-channel tsunami? Here are some examples of when it’s gone badly wrong and how you can ride the rough with the smooth.

The era of desktop only internet is gone; mobile internet has radically changed people’s online behaviour. Whoever you are, wherever you are, as long as you have a smartphone with wifi, or a laptop, iPad, tablet, notepad or any other portable device, you can access social networks and media instantly. This innovation has radically altered consumer and business behaviour and those businesses that survive the next wave of digital disruption will have mastered the art of real time analysis of those behaviours.

Businesses now have to take part in a more engaged and open dialogue with consumers via multiple channels. Companies that fall behind in responding to consumer complaints or product problems on social media risk being outed on a global scale. So, simply speaking, how can brands position themselves to win in a constantly changing, always-engaged consumer marketplace?

Daily #Fail

The Daily Mail ran a typically sensationalist and ill-informed article earlier this year suggesting that brands were using social media to ‘spy’ on consumers and ‘listen-in on disgruntled conversations’. It also decried the practice of monitoring for brand mentions on social networks, with privacy campaigners apparently making accusations of ‘outright spying’. For many in the digital marketing sphere social media monitoring is a no-brainer. It’s common practice and the question is not ‘Should we be doing this?’ but ‘How best can we do it?’ Although the article is in many ways ridiculous (conversations on social networks are by their very nature public and freely accessible), it does raise a pertinent question. That is, do social media users actually want brands to jump into their conversations?

Yes, someone might air a gripe regarding your brand on Twitter, but does that mean you should wade in, attempting to address the problem? The answer is a mixture of content and influence. Some could be frustrated about failing to get through to your call centre and have taken to Twitter in the hope of getting a more immediate response. In which case a speedy response will be welcome. Others may just be venting, or simply not like your brand, in which case popping up out of nowhere to ‘engage’ with them may not be met so favourably. It’s a case of taking each on their merits and deciding on a measured response — if you can fix the problem, fix it. If you can’t then perhaps you should leave well alone.

The other question is influence. No marketer enjoys seeing their brand or business denounced online. However, if the Twitter user airing a complaint has four followers and hasn’t made a post in weeks then investing resource in smoothing them over won’t be cost effective.

Mommy moans — no big deal?

On the other hand, if that user has a significant following then ignoring the complaint will only exacerbate the situation. Take for example Maytag, a household goods manufacturer which ignored customer Heather Armstrong’s repeated complaints about her brand new washing machine, a big issue for her as a mother with piles of dirty babygros to wash. Armstrong reported her faulty machine to the manufacturer and asked, as she wrote on her blog: ‘Is there anyone I can talk to who might see what I’ve been through and understand?’

After the call, Armstrong hung up the phone, walked over to her computer and made the following post to her Twitter account: ‘So that you may not have to suffer like we have: DO NOT EVER BUY A MAYTAG. I repeat: OUR MAYTAG EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN A NIGHTMARE.’ And she continued to make a series of statements along those lines.

If Armstrong had a small handful of followers, then these Tweets would have been a small drop in the digital ocean, but at the time Armstrong, one of the leading ‘Mommy Bloggers’ in the U.S., had over 1.2 million followers, the majority of whom could be considered a core audience for Maytag and were able to read her statements relating to the faulty machine and subsequent poor service. Eventually, Maytag’s sister brand Whirlpool sent a repair man round and the manager of the executive offices of the corporation picked up the phone to her, but by that time it was too late, the reputational damage had been done.

Rival company BOSCH, however, was a bit quicker off the mark, and knew an opportunity when it saw one, stepping into the breach to offer Armstrong a brand new washer/dryer for free. Armstrong actually asked BOSCH to donate the machine to a local shelter, which they did, and as a result they reaped the benefits of the positive statements she then made about them.

Navigating customer whirlpools

So here’s the point: when understanding your customer, data becomes critical. In this rapidly evolving consumer landscape data must underpin the actions that your business takes. Web and social media analytics software enables businesses to monitor every mention of a brand in real time, and analyse these mentions to find out if people are discussing your brand, products and key spokespeople in a positive or negative way. Furthermore, developing an understanding of who your influential commentators are is critical. Keeping a close eye on how many followers they have, how they prefer to be contacted, and who they talk to is a useful way of keeping in their good books.

Put this to good use by empowering your staff to act and respond to social and online comments. Rapid response to comments and mentions are vital to answer customer queries, publicly. Large retailers such as Best Buy have empowered hundreds of employees — its ‘Twelpforce’ — to use the corporate Twitter account to answer customer queries instantly. This is an intelligent strategy which adds validity to the age old view that ‘many hands make light work’.

To conclude, let’s remember an insightful comment from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who told the Harvard Business Review that the question he’s most often asked is, ‘What’s going to change in the next five to 10 years?’ But it’s the wrong question, he says. The right one is, ‘What’s not going to change in the next five to 10 years?’ The digital landscape inevitably is going to continue to transform, so make sure you develop strategies which are flexible enough to act and respond — fast.

[This article was originally posted on iMediaConnection UK 2/8/2011. Christan Howes is a regular contributor to iMediaConnection. -- Ed]

2 Responses to “Social Media Fails”

  1. 40deuce

    It’s true that there are sometimes when jumping into a conversation can be most beneficial to a brand, but there are also times when it doesn’t need to be done. The key thing is for businesses to understand when are the appropriate times and which are not. Some people just vent through social media, while others are generally looking for the help of a brand/company.
    These companies should have a clear understanding of who their community is and which are the right and wrong times to respond in social media. Some people will say that everything should be responded to, but I would argue that one myself. Sometimes not doing anything is the best response, but not always. Knowing the difference will be key for companies if they want to effectively leverage social media to their full benefit.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos


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