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Turning negative into positive: a must for social media

14-June-2011
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Turning negative into positive: a must for social media

Social media has many obvious attractions for brands including the all too obvious one of building a direct feedback cycle with the consumers, something that just a few years ago, was all but impossible. Today, a brand can have a self selected focus group of thousands, which some, like Café Coffee Day, have been able to use to create new flavours, while others like Hippo used to manage logistics issues.

But the flip side is that this same presence also makes the brand much more aware of criticism, and today, ignoring this negative feedback isn’t an option. This was best exemplified in a recent case where Vodafone sent a legal notice to a Facebook user for posting defamatory status updates about the brand. Going beyond that specific incident though, the larger question at hand for brands is simple – people will be negative. How do you respond?

Ajaay Gupta, CMD Capital Foods Ltd, the brand owners of Ching's Secret and Smith & Jones, said, “An unsatisfied customer is bound to chat about the brand - both offline and online. Brands ignore this at their own peril. Brands need to proactively and honestly accept errors if any and correct those. You are not only able to then retain your customer but more important win and retain their and their friend networks trust.”

He added, “The big challenge in doing this is that the company has to be prepared to be 'naked' – absolutely transparent in its dealings with consumers and has to be very nimble to respond. At Capital Foods, all genuine complaints are responded to within 10min all days between 7am-11pm even if the first response is limited to just acknowledging the consumer as a human. Capital Foods has integrated Online Reputation Management to its Customer Relationship Management and goes to great lengths to actually solve the complaint itself within 24 hours. The worst thing a brand could do in a crisis or complaint is to shut their eyes as if nothing has happened. Keep the line of communication open. Most consumers are willing to forgive brands who are proactive.”

This view is also echoed by Chris George, CEO, EBS Worldwide. George said, “Based on what I know, Vodafone is making a big mistake here. If they had put aside a small portion of the money they are spending on their TV and print campaigns toward ORM, or at least to an online CRM program, they wouldn’t have faced this situation. What they needed was an agency to carry out an ongoing online audit for the brand, to pick up on the conversation before it goes out of hand.”

Once a problem occurs, the solution is to take it offline, without having to take legal recourse, he suggested, saying, “They should have reached out to him, called him up, and dealt directly with him. But most of all, they should have resolved the problem. Then he would become an advocate of the brand instead of someone who is writing negative things about them.”

Ignoring such feedback until it’s too late for a quiet solution only leads to further negative notice, George pointed out. Such a scenario is called the Streisand Effect on the internet, where attempting to suppress information actually helps spread it.

George added, “The issue of connectivity is a genuine issue. Even if the brand had no quick fix, they could have at least offered him some options, or at least shown that they are aware of the problem and are working to fix it. If the court does not find for them, then this will go from a small problem to a huge problem.”

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