Companies across the board in the modern era are advised that they need to use social media, communicate effectively across it, and develop a sound social media strategy. We definitely play into this as consumers by turning to social media as a primary source of information, point of contact, and complaint centre for the companies we interact with; or just for talking about the products we use. For example, a few months ago, my Clarisonic abruptly decided to start randomly turning itself on, which was startling and dramatic. I posted about it on Twitter, because it was funny — and I certainly wasn’t expecting Clarisonic to do anything about it, since I was pretty sure it was out of warranty.
Their social media person contacted me within 24 hours, recommended that I call their warranty centre to see if it was actually covered, and said that if it wasn’t, they could probably work something out for me. I called, it was indeed under warranty, and they sent me a replacement. What stunned me, though, was the rapidity of the response and how politely and quickly they responded to what I had genuinely not intended as a complaint. Their social media team is clearly on it when it comes to searching for instances of Clarisonic’s name and responding them to make their customers feel valued; it was notable enough that I would recommend Clarisonic to others (as if I didn’t already) and that I would keep their family of products in mind for specific beauty needs (no, I am not being compensated for saying that). Mission accomplished on their part, and all for the cost of paying for and developing a social media team.
JetBlue did something similar to me a few years ago, where I was joking about the music in the terminal and they Tweeted a joke back — they’re not the only company that’s lighthearted and fun with customers, but also good at balancing the difference between genuine complaints about issues that people want to see resolved, and people just goofing off on the Internet. While many companies would probably prefer that customers follow the motto of my favourite restaurant: ‘If you liked your dinner, tell your friends — if you didn’t, tell us!,’ we live in an era where that’s not really feasible. People tell the world, because we share so many aspects of our lives that it’s not functionally possible to operate in a world where you can hope to control your public image by limiting discussion of you and your company.
Given the large number of companies with sound social media strategies, I know several things. The first is that it’s possible for companies to have responsive social media teams that are also sensitive to the needs and concerns of specific customers; they treat their customers like a family and also a community to be served. It’s possible for a company to convey information (‘We’re having special hours’ ‘There’s a sale on’ ‘We have this item that’s very popular in stock again!’) to the public in a way that’s really easy, but not necessarily obnoxious. So it’s not that using social media is impossible.
Further, with so many examples to draw upon, I know that it’s possible for companies to use social media sensibly and sensitively: In addition to interacting with customers, social media teams can crack jokes, comment on current events, and so forth, while staying on brand and also not being offensive. I know it because I’ve seen it — because I follow an assortment of companies on Twitter, sometimes because I like their products and sometimes because they are genuinely funny. Sometimes they’re also informative and useful; many of the bookstores I follow, for example, turn me on to books I wouldn’t have been aware of without them (because I really need more books).
I also know, given this information, that there are social media guides, consultants, and training courses. Not all of this stuff comes naturally. Customers service staff need to be trained, and social media teams are, effectively, customer service reps. They deal with customer complaints and discussions, they help people place orders and resolve problems, they match people up with products they might be interested in, and they perform other tasks that make them the face of the company. While a business may have phone and in-person customer service in addition to email options, a growing number of people really like the ease of interacting on social media, and savvy companies have taken to that medium. If you think ahead of your customers, you can anticipate their needs.
Which is why I find clueless and offensive uses of social media so puzzling. With some companies, I expect it given their business ethos, their methods, their line of products, and their demonstrated attitude. It makes sense that their social media would express the way members of the company think and operate, so it’s not like I can act surprised when a company chooses to express opinions that I find unpleasant on social media. It would be like being surprised that when a dog poops, it smells bad.
Other, more mainstream companies, or those trying to build up a following, though, have no excuse. Especially in the case of big companies, which have resources to train social media teams in-house or to pay for their training as part of the process to develop a social media strategy. There’s no reason such firms should have ‘gaffes,’ and there’s no reason they should be handled so poorly — the deletion of the Tweet and claim of ‘hacking,’ say, or the ‘whoops, our intern meant to put that out through her private account, not post it to the company Facebook.’ Members of the public can read the writing on the wall. Companies that insult them by putting up offensive material because their social media people are untrained or don’t think carefully before sharing something are lining themselves up not just for heavy public criticism, but for losing customers.
I don’t necessarily have to agree with or support the ideals and personal beliefs held by individual employees of a company. But when they express their ideas on company time, with company-handled resources, I’m far less interested in using that company in the future. Why, in the face of this generally known and understood information about how customers think, are so few companies addressing their social media problems?
Photo: Bébé couette, Etienne, Flickr