THE PROBLEM: Disengaged consumers are using social media resources like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook to stage large-scale revolts against companies big and small.
THE SOLUTION: Make sure your organization is prepared to play by the open-dialogue rules of social media. You need to engage consumers through the channels of their choice ... and then respond to their feedback quickly, tactfully, and politely.
Last March, the Nestlé company's Facebook page was deluged with protests from users critical of the company's environmental practices. Some protesters left messages on Nestlé's page using Facebook profile pictures that were based on parodies of Nestlé trademarks.
These revised logos portrayed the company as both an abuser of the environment and a practitioner of cruelty toward animals. The Nestlé Facebook moderator, apparently irked by the appropriation of the company's intellectual property, started posting rude messages threatening certain users with deletion.
The question for marketers: "Is inappropriate behavior on the part of some Facebook users a reason for the company to start insulting them?"
The answer is "no." Attempting to censor fellow users of the social media space, or ordering on-line protesters with whom we disagree to cease and desist, simply doesn't work.
Nestlé assumed it had more control over the social media space
than anyone actually does. At the end of the day, Nestlé's arrogant
posts had not only galvanized an even larger base of protesters, but also kindled a P.R. nightmare.
Part of the price we pay for participating in the social media space is an acceptance of the basic principle of open dialogue. Yes, that means putting up with people who say nasty things about our company. It also means thinking carefully before responding to criticism.
Case in point: A moviegoer in Minnesota had a bad experience at the multiplex, and wrote the company via e-mail to complain about it. The response she received from a senior executive used profanity and told her, crudely, to take her business elsewhere. She posted the executive's crass e-mail response to her complaints on her Facebook page. Within 72 hours, a host of outraged readers--over 3,300 of them--had joined a grassroots campaign to boycott the cinema. A tidal wave of bad press followed.
The question is: How can marketers prevent such social media revolts from emerging in the first place? By doing what Mubarak refused to do for three decades: Listen.
- Start by recognizing that PR, marketing, and customer service all OVERLAP in the social media space. Therefore, make sure they have tight/real-time, communication linkages within your company.
- Beware the "Mubarak Syndrome": Give up the idea that you can "control" or censor social media participants.
- Recognize that even harsh social media feedback is helpful and can teach you.
- Do not cop an attitude. Listen.
Ernan Roman is President of the marketing consultancy, Ernan Roman Direct Marketing.
Recognized as the industry pioneer who created three transformational methodologies: Integrated Direct Marketing, Opt-In Marketing, and Voice of Customer Relationship Research.
Clients include Microsoft, NBC Universal, Disney, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
Ernan was named to "B to B's Who's Who" as one of the "100 most influential people" in Business Marketing by Crain's B to B Magazine.
His latest book on marketing best practices was published in October, 2010, and is titled: Voice of the Customer Marketing: A Proven 5-Step Process to Create Customers Who Care, Spend, and Stay.
Ernan is also the co-author of "Opt-In Marketing: Increase Sales Exponentially with Consensual Marketing" and author of "Integrated Direct Marketing: The Cutting Edge Strategy for Synchronizing Advertising, Direct Mail, Telemarketing and Field Sales."