Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Social Media: Handle with care. Why, if you practice social media, you need to do it properly.

(originally posted February 8, 2013)

There is no doubt that social media can be of great benefit to a commercial organisations. but many companies underestimate the resources, commitment and intelligence required to use social media to make a positive contribution to their customer engagement.
There have been many examples where using social media, Twitter in particular, has backfired spectacularly on major organisations. Probably the most famous of these occurred in 2009, when furniture store Habitat’s tweets included hashtags relating to trending topics rather than their own business. One hashtag used was against the name of ‘Mousavi’, an Iranian politician; other tweets included the words ‘Apple’ and ‘iPhone’.  Other examples of corporate Twitter misbehaviour come from big brands such as Vodaphone, Virgin, and Ryanair, who have all issued personally insulting and critical tweets directed at their customers.
Train operators First Capital Connect (@Firstcc) are committed to using social media. They use Twitter as a customer service tool, giving real-time advice and service updates, and automatically retweet any tweet they receive. Unfortunately for them, their actual product isn’t as good as their marketing, and the following are just a sample of the negative @Firstcc retweets from the past day:

“Surprise surprise technical difficulties on the train ahead on @FirstCC delays AGAIN will there ever be a day without them” 
“Felt a bit weirded out by my @FirstCC train turning up on time. Normal service resumed though when it parked in tunnel for 5 minutes”
“Sorry @FirstCC can we stop referring to this train as he  815 that moments been and gone” [sic]
There were plenty more very similar and a few, which have been removed, using personally insulting strong language towards their staff.
I’m not sure whether to admire FCC or not. While their honesty and willingness to engage professionally with customers is to be admired, the constant stream of negative publicity cannot be good corporately. They obviously have a well thought out social media strategy, and are willing to sacrifice a bit of reputation for customer engagement.

First Capital Connect do have one advantage of course, and one which probably explains the willingness to take so much public flack. They are, in effect, a monopoly – their customers have very few alternatives.
Going back to Habitat and the other Twitter offenders mentioned above, all of them pointed the finger at individual members of staff who, they claim, acted autonomously. Habitat blamed ‘an overenthusiastic intern, acting without authorisation……[who] is no longer associated with Habitat’. This demonstrates just how seriously companies should take their social media engagement, and resource with intelligence and management accountability. You wouldn’t put an unsupervised trainee in charge of a £100,000 PPC campaign, so why risk the reputational damage social media can inflict by under resourcing?
If a company has a Twitter account, they should tweet on a regular basis, similarly if they commit to publishing blogs then they should be regularly updated. Failure to do so is a (very) public declaration of complacency, which by extension could reflect badly on the company and its products and services.
The message to organisations must be, take social media seriously, or don’t include it in your marketing tactics at all.

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