How to Deal With the Anti-Social Side of Social Media

Reblogged by Keith Dickinson



Board Member at Payfirma

Is Your Company Ready for a Twitter Rant That Goes Viral?

by Ryan Holmes

January 16, 2014 

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Here’s a new—and daunting—challenge many companies face today: in an increasingly digital era, how do you keep client rants from turning into large-scale PR disasters?

After all, rather than having to obediently wait on helplines or for email support, consumers can now shout out their grievances and be heard by a mass audience, instantly, thanks to channels like Facebook and Twitter.

That’s scary news for brands because once a complaint goes public on the Internet, there’s no knowing how far it may travel or how quickly, making damage control that much more difficult.

Consider for example the situation major US airlines recently faced when severe weather forced them to suddenly cancel tens of thousands of flights in the first week of January. Thousands of their stranded (and frustrated) flyers took to social media, publicly ranting about everything from a lack of rescheduling information to lost luggage and long phone wait times.

US-based Southwest Airlines reported seeing double the amount of tweets during the cancellations. The airline’s seven-person social media team went into high gear, addressing the 12,000 or so messages (the majority related to the extreme weather) directed to the company’s Twitter handle from January 2 and 7.

Meanwhile Twitter itself reported seeing Tweets about travel hit an all-time high during the storms. “Most of the bad news that you get as a traveler is at the airport,” the social network’s head of travel accounts Mike De Jesus told AZCentral on the spike. “It’s very easy to pull out your phone and tweet something under 140 characters to the brand that you’re frustrated with.”

It’s hard not to feel bad for airlines like Southwest: extreme weather is out of any business’ hands and shouldn’t be turned into a PR crisis. On the other hand, monitoring and responding promptly to the barrage of comments and critical customer reviews on social media is clearly a bigger priority than ever.

It’s what clients are fast coming to expect … and appreciate.

Should customer service be everyone’s job?

Front-line support teams remain critical, but customer service in the social media era also needs to be radically decentralized. In other words, it’s essential that all employees become the eyes and ears of an organization on social media.

Take last year’s much publicized British Airways’ paid-Tweet crisis. When the airline lost a family member’s luggage, businessman Hasan Syed paid an estimated $1,000 to send a Promoted Tweet—Twitter’s new ad unit—to a target audience in New York and the UK, two of the airline’s key markets. His message was brutally direct: “Don’t fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous.”

It took British Airways more than 10 hours to notice and address the complaint. By that time, it had been retweeted thousands of times and picked up by popular tech news websites. After just a few days, nearly 100,000 Twitter users saw Syed’s rant and stories on it ran everywhere from the BBC to Fox News.

Surely some of the airline’s staff must have stumbled across that paid rant on Twitter before it went viral? But I’m guessing that customer service “wasn’t their job,” so they may have simply ignored it.

Customer service in the age of social media needs to be everyone’s job. This doesn’t mean every employee has to be glued to Facebook and Twitter streams all day. Social media listening tools make it easy to track brand references and mentions, and these functions can still be handled ably by a small, dedicated team. At my company, for instance, our 17-person customer service team uses our own social media product to handle 8 million users, responding to 90 percent of requests with 30 minutes, a better response rate than Nike’s.

But at the same time, as social media becomes more integrated into the corporate workflow—as part of marketing, sales intelligence, research and other functions—employees in general are spending more of their day on social channels. And they’re inevitably coming across Tweets and Posts that require, if not their own attention, then the attention of someone else in their company, whether in customer support, sales, PR or even inside the CEO’s office. We saw this happening so often within our company, in fact, that our engineers developed a tool that let anyone “assign” a Tweet to anyone else for follow-up.

The benefits of a social customer service strategy

But the strategy isn’t just about putting out fires. It can also yield unexpected benefits.

In November, for instance, Twitter user Jay Rooney (@RamblingRooney) stirred up trouble by launching this message into the Twitterverse: “Just found out that @tmobile doesn’t charge extra for overseas data. What the hell am I still doing with @ATT?” Unlike British Airways, T-Mobile and AT&T both responded promptly to him on Twitter, touting the advantages of their respective services. Then, something unusual happened.

John Legere, T-Mobile’s CEO, entered the conversation from his personal Twitter account, writing back: “@RamblingRooney bet @ATTs CEO isn’t going to join the convo. Come join the #WirelessRevolution#Uncarrier.”

Was Legere glued to his Twitter stream, searching for mentions of T-Mobile 24/7? I doubt it. But someone in his company likely saw the conversation unfolding and took the initiative to forward him the message. At AT&T, apparently, no one thought to take that step. In the end, disgruntled customer Rooney tweeted back to T-Mobile’s CEO with his decision: “@JohnLegere You definitely caught my attention, good sir. Going to a @tmobile store to inquire tomorrow!” In this instance, the payoff for T-Mobile was a new prospect. But it’s not hard to see how this decentralized approach to customer service might open up far bigger opportunities and partnerships.

According to a recent Nielsen survey, more than half of all U.S. consumers now turn to social media to air questions and complaints about products and services. Acting immediately with honesty and transparency, and ensuring all employees are versed in social media, can help brands start turning potential PR disasters into golden opportunities.


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Image By: GaryKnight


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