There was once a time when brands were created in the smart little bubbles of advertising offices, board rooms and brainstorms. Think ‘Mad Men’ and you’re halfway there. The thing is, those times have changed. Brands are now living, breathing, evolving organisms and if they hope to be at all relevant in today’s world then they’re interactive too. 

What’s changed?

The key development in brand evolution has been the fact that consumers have been given a voice. And it’s loud. Twitter is arguably the main proponent of consumer feedback these days, whereby a single person’s opinion – when supported by the masses – can build momentum until it goes viral. Facebook posts can also build a following very quickly, especially when made on a brand’s own Facebook page. Then of course there are more visual routes for brand-bashers to take. Instagram and Pinterest are now potential billboards for complaint, since consumers can take and post images of how a brand or company is behaving out in the real world.

Gone are the days when all publicity is good publicity, because when brand-bashing goes viral the value of a company can plummet in a flash. And since the chatter about you can take place whether you interact or not, opting out isn’t really a sensible option.

Control versus consistency

The organic, spontaneous nature of social media makes it a very hot potato for big brands. Big players usually have active legal departments behind the scenes and very strict rules of engagement with consumers. A brand’s tone of voice needs to be consistent, which is hard to achieve when you have a team of people taking part in real-time dialogues. These tone of voice and legal restrictions can inhibit those posting on social media sites to the extent that they lose the humanity that makes them feel authentic.

It’s a fine line to tread and one that many brands have been humbled by. Let’s look at three cautionary tales that reinforce the need not only for brands to have presence on social media sites but also for intelligent, well thought-out interaction too… 

1) News-sensitive subjects

The horse meat scandal that took place in the UK this year took on a life of it’s own on Twitter. Brands that weren’t quick to respond, or sensitive enough in that response were taken to task by the press and consumers alike. As such Tesco tweeting that they were ‘hitting the hay’ after a long day at work did not go down well. Apparently Tesco had scheduled the Tweet before the news came out and didn’t think to check their account once it had.

2) Rise of the automatons

One of the secrets of social media customer service is to make sure a human voice lies behind each interaction. Let’s look at a recent lesson learnt by Domino’s Pizza. When they were complimented on a great pizza via their Facebook page by Jeaneth Manzaniita Tavares they commiserated with a message apologising and asking for additional information. It’s a far cry from the human touch that lies at the heart of social media. Domino’s upheld that it was a real person who had made a blunder and not an automated message but by that point the damage was done.

3) Being sensitive to context

Bank of America have been similarly chastised for automation-style tweets on Twitter. When a New Jersey dad, Mark Hamilton tweeted in protest about foreclosure he tagged @bankofamercia and found himself on the bank’s social media radar. Apparently one of their social media servicing representatives sprang into action with vapid and repetitive offers to ‘review your account with you to discuss any concerns’. The context of that tag was not considered in the slightest and so the bank’s reputation as a faceless giant was thoroughly reinforced.

Social media customer service done well

The examples above present worse case scenarios of brands blundering their way through social media. But it isn’t all bad. Some brands harness the human power that lies behind social media to great effect. Here are some rules that big, successful brands have implemented to ensure their social presence is more positive than negative: 

1) Don’t harass:

The US breakfast cereal Cap’n Crunch are strict about only responding when approached, which helps them to avoid seeming grabbing and desperate.

2) React quickly:

US supermarket Target clearly gets busy over the Christmas period, but when one customer posted a picture of the massive check-out queue on Target’s Facebook page they handled it wonderfully. After apologising and asking which store she was at, the social customer services team were able to contact the manager and get him to open up more tills.

3) Acknowledge criticism:

Tech savvy airline JetBlue demonstrate real empathy via their Twitter account, responding to Tweets about delayed flights seriously quickly. The rule here is not to ignore aggrieved customers but to acknowledge them with information and reassurance.

4) Go above and beyond:

Another US supermarket, Walmart spotted a tweet by a frustrated customer at a competitor’s store. Apparently the individual had travelled a long way to buy a CD that wasn’t in stock. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Walmart sent a link to their closest store where they confirmed the CD was definitely in stock. The result? One happy customer and a story that spread like wildfire.

Helen has a passion for marketing and design, she works as a Marketing manager for Clickinks. In her spare time Helen enjoys reading and blogging.

Image Credit: www.entrepreneur.com