Social Media: Anti-Social, Or An Opportunity For Influence?

“Are sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube making it easier for customers to hate you?”

Head in the sand

This was the question posed by Timothy Taylor in a Globe and Mail story entitled “anti-social media” yesterday. Using examples such as product faults (he cites Dell’s exploding batteries, although I think they were made by Sony…) and contest results (Nissan Cube), he asks the reader to consider whether social media may give voice to critics as much as to companies.

In his concluding words, “Everything that makes social media such a powerful tool for brand awareness also makes it a tempting platform for brand sabotage.”

Here’s my take.

The toothpaste is out of the tube

Taylor is certainly right in (at least) one respect – social media does give have the potential voice to a company’s critics. Unfortunately for the naysayers, though, the horse has already bolted on that one. Social media tools have been doing that for coming up to ten years now, and I don’t see this going away any time soon.

With that said, let’s face it – if your laptop caught fire (regardless of the manufacturer), you’d be talking about it. If social media weren’t around, it might be with a smaller group of friends but it might also be to your favourite reporter… and the news would still get out.

Social media tools, used properly, can do several things for companies:

  1. Provide an early warning mechanism – social media monitoring can give you an early heads-up when an issue is brewing. Nowadays, social media users don’t just report the news – they often spark it. Dell’s Richard Binhammer once said that social media gives the company a two-week heads-up on news that may break in traditional media. While I imagine that timeframe has shrunk over the two years or so since then as traditional media have clued-in to the online space, it’s still an important point.
  2. Provide insurance in advance – social media tools can help you to put a face (or multiple peoples’ faces) on an otherwise faceless organization. The relationships that you can build through that process probably won’t save you when something goes wrong, but it can make people (a) pause and ask if something is true rather than jumping to a conclusion and (b) take a more balanced view of the issue than they might otherwise.
  3. Provide an opportunity to respond – these new channels – blogs, social networks, etc – give people more of a voice than before, but they also give companies a voice where previously they had none beyond the mass media.

Bottom line: Far from losing control, these new online tools provide an opportunity for influence where companies previously had none.

Is that a good thing?

I guess it depends on whether you’re open to thinking differently about your communications with customers, or whether you’re pretending you can put the conversation back in the tube.

What do you think?

  • Dave,

    The onset of social media has changed things tremendously on both sides of the fence, for consumers and for brands alike. It has given rise to a new age of accountability, again, both for consumers and brands alike. There will always be malicious people who get their kicks from causing turmoil just for the fun of it and there will always be irresponsible companies who put out shoddy products without concern for anything other than money. There’s not much anyone can do about that. But those of us that do operate ethically and responsibly are the ones who need to work to educate those who don’t and uphold a high standard of online behavior. I guess you could see it as survival of the fittest…those that don’t comply will eventually be weeded out naturally.
    I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago on my blog: http://bit.ly/13m6QX I’d be interested in your feedback…
    Cheryl

  • Hi Dave,

    Interesting article, I believe that aside from what you mention the advantage of social media is the opportunity to publicly do something about a dissatisfied customer. A proactive customer service (webcare) representative can openly assert the issue raised and offer a fitting solution. I believe social media is only a risk when ignored.

    Best,

    Jan

  • I agree with Jan, Social Media is giving companies a unique chance to publicly discuss (justify/defend/resolve) any negative issues which may have arisen with their customers.

    Previously, when a customer had a bad experience with a company, the bad mouthing and negative publicity would be spread out amongst their friends and ‘real-life’ social networks (a space in which the company would never be able to start a conversation).

    Nowadays, the negativity is, more often than not, displayed publicly online – where companies can get involved. Keeping on top of the general moods and reactions towards your company is paramount in building and maintaining a positive relationship with your customers (even when this may involve admitting mistakes when they’ve been made – as you say Dave, people react better to ‘people’ rather than big faceless co-operations).

    • Hands down… People will find a way to complain about anything regardless of what source they use (as you said). There was a time in the world when social media ceased to exist, yet angry customers still dug their nails in, in some form or another. Yes, social media gives them another source to sound off on, but its many benefits outweigh the negative.

      Companies can more easily monitor these complaints and quickly respond. Although nothing beats face-to-face communications, in my opinion social media is one of the next best things. The culture that comes along with social media humanizes companies, making them more real, down to earth, and not the typical stuffy and hard-nosed image of a corporate environment one might usually envision.

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  • Cy Langkay

    In the present setting, I do believe that social media is a very powerful tool once you know how to use it properly. It gives a sense of communication between the customer and the company without doing too much physical work to it. The only thing that is needed from this are the power of communication, a computer or (laptop in some cases) and an internet connection.

    It has been raised that such social media sites such as twitter, facebook and youtube making it easier for consumers to hate you? If you think of it, there are two sides here – one is that it can irritate consumers because companies may bombard them with too much advertisements or promotions. Because if this happens, not only customers will hate you, but they will spread it through other means of social media thus everything will backfire right back to you. The other is that it doesn’t make consumers hate you as long as you don’t irritate those people – all you need is to update them twice a week or something.

  • Meghan McGovern

    Social media can make people antisocial but it is an important tool in todays society. Social media can get irritating to consumes because of the constant nag but it can also help the consumers with savings. I don’t think social media is a risk and I think it will be beneficial in the coming years.

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