Chapter 2 - Social Media and Unwanted Publicity

One of the drawbacks to social media is mass transparency: for individuals and companies, things that they once assumed were private are now public, and people have less control than before as to what information about them is available to others.

Social media incidents are most commonly identified with individuals - job candidates who lost opportunities or employees who were terminated because of content on their Facebook pages that was deemed distasteful or inappropriate.

It is not merely a need to be discreet in what you post about yourself, but in all your behavior in social settings, even those presumed to be private events. Given that most mobile phones can capture video and photos and post them to social media in seconds, the carelessness or thoughtlessness of other people in posting content about you and associating it to your name and profile can be a liability.

Virtual Family Gatherings

The author mentions the use of social media as a way for families to connect - given a culture in which it is not uncommon for both parents to be working and teenagers to be involved in various activities, the nuclear family is becoming less of a nucleus as "everyone goes about his or her own life" and few families sit down together at dinner.

When families are connected through social media, a parent doesn't have to speak to their child to find out what they have been doing and deal with the teenaged attitude - they can just check their social media stream to keep track of what their children are doing.

(EN: I'm really not quite sure what to make of this, but have the gut feeling it's not good that social media is being advocated as an acceptable substitute for face-to-face communication in the family)

A survey of social media indicated that most parents (73%) feel that it's acceptable for their children to have social media accounts, but also state that their intention is to monitor their use of media, and 69% of parents are "friends" with their kids of Facebook.

The Value of Complaints

One value for brands is that social media is searchable - such that the company can search for its brand names to see what people are really saying about it. But more than just monitoring reputation, a firm should react to what they see.

One example is a customer who sent a tweet that expressed his frustration with his cable company and the length of time he was waiting for them to follow up. Seeing the conversation, the company assigned a troubleshooter to contact him immediately and resolve the issue. The customer turned immediately from a public complainer to a public promoter.

(EN: I have some sense it is because few companies monitor social media - so customers are pleasantly surprised when they get a reaction. When it becomes a common practice, there is still likely some benefit to effecting a service recovery, but people will be more inured and less impressed.)

There is some concerns about brands being intrusive into social media, an area in which many users believe is private, or at least personal, conversations between people in which corporate marketers are not allowed to intrude. Most brands are savvy enough to avoid getting into a public argument with a customer, or to appear to be on the defensive if anything negative is ever said, but for many there's some difficult in striking the proper balance of being responsive without becoming intrusive.

A few examples are provided, by way of suggesting that customers do not mind when brands reach out to them - provided that the interaction is appropriate and relevant. There's a clear difference between attempting to make sure a customer's concerns are addressed versus trying to silence people with valid criticisms (which can lead to an even larger PR fiasco).

Getting customers to complain to you has value - it identifies opportunities to address problems that may be plaguing many customers. One study (SPI 2003) suggests that 96% of customers who are dissatisfied don't bother to complain - and that 63% of them will not buy from you again. Meanwhile, companies take the perspective that all is well if nobody is griping - though meanwhile they can't seem to figure out why they get so little repeat business.

It's also suggested that the immediate nature of social media, particularly mobile, is that customers who complain can do so instantly, when they are most familiar with the problem they just had and are less likely to aggrandize or confabulate. It may be a little bit raw, but it's honest. (EN: I recall an anecdote that seemed contrived but might actually be true: a restaurant was able to take action instantly because a customer who tweeted a complaint was still in the dining room.)

It is conceded that there are malicious or persnickety people out there who seem to delight in complaining, as a means of making themselves seem clever or sophisticated or just to cause chaos - but they are very rare in comparison to the number of individuals who are fair-minded and do not complain without good reason.

In general, people in social media are cautious of their reputation, which keeps them in check: people who are constantly complaining and bickering are soon ignored or de-friended by others. But on the other hand, people who are honest and reliable have an excellent reputation, and any complaint they make has a great deal of credibility, and leaving that complaint ignored or unresolved can do serious damage to your brand among their acquaintances.