The serious business of being social
From its beginnings as a exclusive network of digitally savvy teens, social media has grown into a powerful global behemoth that forces your attention. Deena Coster reports on the serious business of taking social media seriously.
When Joel Lewis found maggots in his pie he followed the traditional complaint route and called the supermarket he bought it from.
But when he didn't find satisfaction there he took his complaint to thousands of people, most of whom he didn't even know. He took his complaint to social media.
His April post to his Facebook account of maggots squirming all over a meat pie made an immediate impact and then quickly spiralled out of his control.
Lewis says he was swamped with abuse from people, including negative comments about why he posted the picture that were sent directly to his personal Facebook Messenger. And this continued despite his deletion of the post several hours later.
"Once people start sharing it, you just start getting the hate," the North Taranaki man says.
He never wanted to get anyone into trouble or get his money back, he just wanted to make people aware.
"I just wanted to get it out there," he says. "When you do that, you put yourself out for there criticism as well."
"I probably wouldn't do that again, it's not worth it," Lewis says.
In this instance the post had a negative impact for Lewis but there are countless examples of such complaints going the other way and spelling doom for an unsuspecting businesses caught flat footed against the powerful turbulence of a social media frenzy.
Whereas complaints used be able to be controlled and contained now they can be made public and spread like wildfire in a matter of minutes. And businesses are starting to realise social media is no joke.
A recent survey of New Zealand company directors highlighted how 62 per cent of respondents expected the increasing influence of social media to impact their business in the next 12 months. It outstripped other concerns like attracting new talent or retaining existing staff.
It is a valid preoccupation, says Massey University School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing lecturer Dr Cathy Strong.
"Social media is a huge risk and it's not something a business can escape," she says.
A 2016 survey of New Zealand businesses shows about 93 per cent use social media. Of that figure, 74 per cent were on Facebook, reaching out to the 2.3 millions users of the platform around the country.
Strong says the audience social media offers to businesses is not something they can ignore, but it comes with its own demands as well.
"It is fraught. Businesses have got to be monitoring social media and respond quickly."
She recalled the experience of a business owner who noticed a steady drop off in trade at her cafe. It was not until she began actively monitoring social media that she saw a series of "horrible" comments that had been posted online that were likely behind her sharp decline in trade.
Trading eventually got so bad, the cafe owner ended up selling the business, at a financial loss, Strong says.
She says this example provided a lesson for other businesses to heed, about ensuring a close watch is kept on social media for any mention of their business, good or bad, so they can at least be aware if not reactive to it.
"But I also know it doesn't always happen."
And that is in spite of it being well known customers are increasingly using social media as a platform to post their complaints about a product or a service, sometimes even when the complaint is without merit.
From there it can only take minutes before it is either viewed or shared, potentially around the world and well before a company has time to figure out if the complaint is genuine and how to respond.
Geraldine Oldham, the sales and marketing manager for Restaurant Brands stable of fast food outlets KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Carl's Jr, says the company proactively manages any potential risks to its brands against the steady rise in the use of social media as a channel for customer feedback.
They have to. Serving 60,000 customers a day complaints are all but unavoidable but how they are managed can be the difference between a snow ball melting out and disappearing or turning into an avalanche as it picks up momentum on social media.
"We have a dedicated social media team who monitor posts, comments and messages and can act swiftly to identify both positive and negative sentiment on our social platforms," Oldham says.
"This allows our social team to pick-up conversations even when customers aren't sure how to contact us directly so we can address any feedback."
Oldham says a challenge for any consumer brand, is when customers take to social media to post their gripes which can then be "reported as fact before any fact checking has taken place."
"We always want to hear from our customers if they have genuine feedback or concerns about our products or services.
"However, we are seeing an increasing number of people taking to social media to make claims, rather than contacting us directly," she says.
Regardless, all complaints are taken seriously, Oldham says.
"There is a strict process in place where a customer representative will contact the complainant and we have measures in place to make sure the issue is resolved in a timely manner."
Tackling the issue
While there was no magic formula to completely eliminating the risks of social media, Strong says a good starting point for businesses to manage any issues is to respond quickly, acknowledge the concern and genuinely show you care.
Strong says while the complaint is between the customer and the business in question, when it made and addressed on social media other people see the interaction so it provides a chance for the company to show a wider audience how they deal with issues.
"They're talking to all the others who are watching the exchange," Strong says.
Jasmine Currie, Whittaker's assistant marketing manager, says social media is viewed by the firm as "more of an opportunity" than a threat.
Last year, chocolate maker Whittaker's was crowned New Zealand's most trusted brand in the Reader's Digest Trusted Brands survey.
Social media provides a way to directly connect with customers, Currie says, but one of the challenges is the increasing numbers of people using the different social media mediums.
"The biggest challenge that we face with social media is the ever-increasing level of engagement," she says.
As well as the well known sites such as Facebook and Twitter there is Snapchat, Instagram, Whatapp, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr. Each of them can be used to quickly reach an audience of thousands and in some cases millions.
Whittaker's formula for dealing with any potential problems is simple, Currie says.
"We mitigate risks primarily by always being honest, genuine and as responsive as possible," she says.
All its social media channels are regularly monitored by its team and while Currie did not disclose the size of any budget attached to this, she says being "social-led" is a critical part of everything the company does, including product launches and promotions.
"It is a critical part of our overall marketing strategy."
Social Media 101 for businesses
- Brand your cover photo and profile picture with your logo
- Detail all your contact information, including links to social media
- Interact with your audience, post and share content and reply to comments
- Think 80 per cent tell to 20 per cent sell, use social media primarily to build profile and rapport
- Have a plan when you post, know what, when and who you want to reach
- Each post should have a purpose
- Use good quality content, including videos and photos
- Keep an eye on what content does well, so you know what your audience wants to see
- Keep your posts short and simple, aim for three sentences
Source: TGM Creative