June 17, 2013

Social media not friendly or forgiving to business

A clash between a motorist and a cyclist that moved online results in a loss of corporate sponsors.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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"Whether it's 'We'll look into this, we'll check it out and get back to you,' you have to acknowledge the problem and let the person know they were heard," Bailey said.

The quick response is key to preventing issues from escalating and attracting broader attention, marketing experts said.

Bailey described an incident when he experienced a frustrating scheduling problem with cable provider Comcast. He complained on Twitter, and Comcast immediately responded and asked for his number to resolve the problem. It even threw him a few perks to compensate him for his trouble, he said.

Other companies aren't quite as quick or savvy.

Bailey cited one example: When a customer complained on Twitter that he was getting bounced around Amtrak's automated 800 number and couldn't get any help, Amtrak quickly responded -- by giving the customer its 800 number. Not only did Amtrak fail to listen to the customer's complaint and solve the problem, it publicly revealed its misstep on Twitter, Bailey said.

A spokesman for Amtrak could not be reached for comment.

Other recent social media blunders have also grabbed headlines, such as retailers American Apparel and Gap Inc. making light of Hurricane Sandy by offering discounts and promoting online shopping during the disaster, to fast-food chain Chick-fil-A's Facebook page being overrun by customers upset over the founder's stance against same-sex marriage.

Even attempts to be fun and engaging with customers can backfire, as shown by McDonald's, which last year created the Twitter hashtag #mcdstories for customers to discuss their visits to the chain. Instead, the #mcdstories trend became a dumping ground for customers to vent about bad service. McDonald's acknowledged that "#mcdstories did not go as planned."

Of course, not every grumpy customer can be soothed.

"You're not going to be able to satisfy everyone. At some point, you may have to let it go," Bailey said.

Just as companies need to address complaints, they also need to jump on good news.

Poland Spring bottled water was slow to embrace its viral notoriety when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., made a lunge for a bottle of its water on live television during his response to President Obama's State of the Union address in February. While media outlets picked up on the odd gesture and noted the brand of water he was drinking, Poland Spring waited until late the next day to post a tongue-in-cheek glamour shot of a Poland Spring bottle gazing at itself in a mirror. While the company eventually responded to its sudden notoriety, Poland Spring may have missed a chance to make a bigger splash, social media experts said.

Some Maine retailers and restaurants ranging from L.L. Bean to Stonewall Kitchen to Bard Coffee have robust online forums to handle customer complaints and suggestions and to promote their brand.

When Stonewall Kitchen wanted to spread the news that a special order of its Maine-made blueberry jam was headed for the International Space Station in August, it used a variety of outlets from Twitter to traditional news releases. The company typically uses Facebook to announce new products and answer customers' requests for the return of favorite items.

"Spreading good news is a thoughtful process and more than just posting on our social media platforms. An integrated approach using social media, press, Web and email marketing allows for greater reach and awareness," said Janine Somers, Stonewall's director of marketing. "Spreading good news doesn't end with distributing the information. Being available to answer questions keeps the dialogue going and enhances relationships with our contacts and guests."

L.L. Bean, which has a varied and active online media presence, has a team of about 30 people who work in e-service customer communications, including email, live chat, Q&A and handling customer service issues on Facebook and Twitter. The company has a presence on 11 social media channels ranging from its blog to Pinterest to Facebook.

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