Breaking down the fear of social media

I saw this blog on the CIM website and it covered the main objections we hear from businesses who are yet to embrace social media.

With social media becoming such an ingrained part of our lives, it continues to amaze me when I hear that there are still a significant number of companies who are yet to begin using social media to engage with their customers. For these companies and for those who have already taken their first step, the biggest barrier can be the fear of what might happen. We often hear horror stories and tales of woe from those who have got it so very wrong and it’s only natural that we would be keen to avert such a disaster from befalling our own carefully crafted public image.

That’s not to say that social media is for everyone, but what many fail to realise is that their brand is already being talked about online. Their staff, customers and competitors are already discussing the brand with their friends, family, contacts and customers; they’re just not part of the conversation. And not being part of it means they have no influence over it whatsoever.

While actively engaging in such a public arena does come with potential risks, in reality, the main reason why some brands become a cautionary tale is not because social media itself poses the threat, but because they don’t have the underlying structures in place to be able to deal with potential risks quickly and effectively.

One of the best examples of this is VW and their now infamous Facebook post in the New Year. It started off as a relatively innocuous post from VW asking about their customer’s new year’s resolutions and what they would like to see VW do this year. The barrage of assault resulted from an early comment about the group’s environmental impact following a recent report by Greenpeace.

This was obviously not the way the company had planned for this to go (or at least the poor marketing bod who wrote the post in the first place) but unfortunately the real disaster came from VW’s reaction. In that they didn’t! In fact, once they saw the comments snowballing they attempted to remove the offending post and even began deleting some of the comments. This of course escalated the whole situation and to date there has been little or no response to the many thousands of comments spanning more than six months.

Ultimately VW came unstuck because they failed to engage with their audience, either because they didn’t want to or didn’t know how. Having a robust crisis management process in place or indeed an understanding of how to effectively engage with negative feedback could have averted this and allowed VW to respond to comments, and indeed, possibly turn this into a positive experience by sharing their thinking around this issue.

You can still view the full post if you want an example of how not to engage.

To date the post has received over 220,000 comments and the conversation is still going on.

If you decide to ask your audience what they think, you can’t then just ignore the responses you don’t like. Engage with the negative ones, they care enough to tell you what they think and it gives brands the opportunity to change someone’s mind. Indeed, there are some great examples of companies doing just that.

One of my favourites and sticking with the car theme is the lowly Smart car who recently surprised a blogger with one of the best responses I’ve seen to a derogatory post in a long time. The blogger, clearly not a fan of the Smart car tweeted out implying that the car was of such poor quality that the poop from one bird had in fact totalled a nearby vehicle.

While I’m sure Smart are used to these kinds of jibes about their tiny motor vehicle, they decided on this occasion to respond, especially as the blogger in question had a rather substantial following.

The reply was this: "Couldn't have been one bird, @dtothebone Twitter profile" href="" target="_blank">@adtothebone. Sounds more like 4.5 million. (Seriously, we did the math.)".
And along with the tweet came an infographic showing how much poop would actually be required to total the vehicle depending on the size of bird.

The response from the blogger was one of amazement and delight, publicly announcing that his opinion of the car and its manufacturer had been permanently altered by this interaction.

Smart got it right because they responded in a way that was on message, represented their brand wholeheartedly and with a sense of humour. It paid off and the story found its way onto Reddit and Mashable for its ingenuity.

While there are always risks when using social media, used correctly it can open up a whole new world for you and your audience to engage with one another, share experiences and receive some of the highest levels of customer service, building not only reputation but an emotional connection that can breed loyalty and advocacy in a way that very few other channels can offer.

By deciding not to use social media to engage online, what we are actually doing is missing possibly one of the biggest opportunities to understand what our audience and our customers want and how we can improve our relationships with them. And by staying out of the conversation, companies are allowing others to dictate how their brand is represented within social media.

by Daniel Rowles

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