Woah there tiger!! Beware what and how you react to social media


The benefits of social media in the business world have been a hot topic of conversation for a few years now. Many businesses have started to adopt ‘social media strategies’, and are using the likes of Facebook and Twitter for marketing and customer service among other things.

It is true to say that social media has been a revelation for the consumer. Many recognise that social media has put the consumer ‘in control’, and given them a ‘voice’ unlike any generation has been able to take advantage of before. On the one had this is great – especially for those of us who spend our lives working with businesses to ensure that the poor consumer is listened to. However (or ‘but’ depending on which word you prefer), social media has also caused us a problem – and by us, I mean the collective us – customer experience professionals and our colleagues within the businesses that we work.

Whilst social media has enabled the consumer to speak openly about their experiences with an organisation (good or bad), the world-wide web has also enabled senior managers to see what customers are saying about their businesses – whenever they want.

Now on the one hand, this is not such a bad thing. As I have already said, customer experience professionals spend their lives getting senior managers to listen to what customers are saying. The problem is that senior managers tend to look at the comments they see online as ‘red’ – an absolute black and white (sorry too many colours being used in this explanation!!) description of the problems within the company. They tend to see a one-off tweet as completely representative of what is happening in their business.

I personally have been on the receiving end of this ‘phenomenon’ many times – where a senior leader has seen a negative tweet, and then demanded that anyone responsible be summoned for both an explanation and an immediate solution. I am sure that those of you reading this recognise the scenario. It is not wrong for a CEO or a senior director to be agitated by negative sentiment on a social forum – but they way that they react to it is critical.

In an organisation that has an established customer feedback programme, any comment about the business MUST be taken in context with what the ‘representative sample’ of customers are saying – not one or two angry customers who proactively use twitter to get themselves heard. Businesses run the risk of taking the wrong action if they listen to the few, rather than the many.

All too often people make the mistake of responding immediately to negative comments made about their businesses. However, it is not always the case that the consumer making the comment actually wants a response. Sometimes consumers just want to have a rant. At Shop Direct Group (my previous business), the CEO received a complaint directly from a customer. The complaint was not about something Shop Direct did in providing a service. The complaint was because one of Shop Direct’s brands responded to a tweet. The customer complained because they felt they were being ‘snooped on’. We may consider this to be an overreaction – but it is an interesting example of what can happen if you react to everything.

The challenge for any customer experience professional is to ensure that their business has access to ‘the facts’. That everyone in the organisation understands what customers think about them, and what the priorities for improvement in the customer journey are (from the customer perspective). Having access to the facts should ensure that IF a consumer posts something to Facebook or Twitter or any other social forum, the senior leadership who might stumble across it will have the appropriate context. If you have access to the facts but senior leadership do not, make sure they do!!

However (sorry there is another one), the other challenge for the customer experience professional and his/her colleagues is to ensure balance – that whilst making sure negative sentiments are put in context, the business does not ‘under-react’ to what the consumer is saying.

A great example of over-reaction was in the UK earlier this year. Martha Payne is a school girl from Argyll in Scotland. With the help of her dad, she started a blog to rate the quality of her school dinners. The blog exposed some shocking facts about the quality of the meals her school was providing. Martha did nothing but tell the truth. The local council decided that this was not acceptable, and shut her blog down. What happened next demonstrates the power of social media – there was a twitter backlash. Within a couple of days, the local council had no option but to reverse its decision. You can read the story of Martha as reported in the Independent newspaper here – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-council-that-bit-off-more-than-it-could-chew-girls-school-dinner-blog-back-by-popular-demand-7854487.html

Argyll and Bute council reacted in the wrong way to one little 9-year-old girl exercising her freedom of speech. If they had just listened to what she was saying, they could have avoided a PR disasterand genuinely addressed a problem . Martha has now raised over £100,000 to feed children in Malawi – quite remarkable. She has also changed the quality of school meals in her region.

So the next time your CEO comes charging to your desk to remonstrate about a negative tweet, please remind him/her that one negative tweet may not always be representative of the overwhelming majority of customers. Gather the facts and determine if you should just listen, or if action is indeed necessary. Of course, an integrated company wide social media policy would be a big help at negating senior management reaction in the first place!!

As always, your comments to this or any other of my blogs is encouraged and appreciated.

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