Social Media’s Growing Impact on Businesses

Years ago, before social media was even a glimmer in the eye of the most Review Sitesadvanced techie, my school-age daughter asked me after a particularly bad consumer experience,  “Mommy, is this one of those places we’re never coming back to?”

Back then, that was pretty much the only recourse – especially for some of the chain stores where complaining to the manager did not seem to make much of an impression.

Poor customer service has been – and probably always will be – part of the retail experience.  People are fallible, after all.  They make mistakes; they have bad days.  But it’s becoming much more dangerous for businesses to screw up in this area.  Social media has provided the sword for customers who, rightly or wrongly, feel they have been treated unfairly.

According to data reported in a Forbes article, “nearly 95% of customers share bad product experiences online; 45% share bad customer services experiences with others.” The results can be devastating, especially for a small business without the public relations staff or resources to fight back.

This trend is only getting stronger. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2013 reported that 67% of consumers read fewer than six reviews before making up their mind about whether or not to patronize a local business; only 22% read more than ten.

Their analysis?  “Consumers are forming opinions faster now than before. . . .This means that local businesses need to manage their online reputation even more closely than before.”  You can access the full survey results here.

You may not be able to resolve every customer’s complaint right away, but it’s important to treat it seriously, and to treat the complaining customer with respect.   In these situations, what your customers want, first and foremost, is to be listened to.  They want to know they matter to you.

But what about the customer who never complains in person and goes directly to social media to post a complaint?  That’s where the real work comes in.  You should regularly monitor any sites that are likely to post reviews on your type of business.  It’s time consuming, but essential, to search for – and promptly respond to – complaints and ask for an opportunity to resolve the issue.  It’s also a good idea to thank people who give you a positive review.

Whether you respond online or off line, you may want to do some internal research before you respond to get some background on what could have gone wrong.  Just keep in mind that a positive experience in resolving a complaint can often turn a complaining customer into a dedicated customer, and there’s a good chance their next post will be a rave review.

(Search tip:  Many customers will use your company’s hashtag to “tag” their post.  If your business is called Mary’s Pet Place, for instance, your hashtag is #maryspetplace. You can search for the hashtag to see what comes up.)

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Does Your Company Need a Social Media War Room?

Social media war rooms are in the news right now.  In fact, they recently were a featured part of a story by Ned Hibberd of Houston’s FOX 26 TV News. The story, which was prompted by Hibberd’s own experience as a consumer, quoted Lisa Dimond, principal of DoubleDimond Public Relations.

It isn’t surprising that this topic is gaining more attention.  While social media channels are great for creating interest, hearing from and targeting consumers, they can create havoc with your company brand.  All it takes is one embarrassing video posted on YouTube or one thoughtless comment on Twitter and, with the speed of light, you are dealing with a PR crisis.

Most companies – especially those who sell products or services to the public – are taking this possibility very seriously.  It’s dangerous not to do so, considering such recent social media missteps as the tweet by a KitchenAid employee during the presidential debate.  The tweet was quickly disavowed by the company, which helped tamp down on the negative publicity they were receiving.

Although corporations are not known for moving quickly, social media demands immediacy.  You have to communicate in real time – engaging with consumers and responding quickly to online comments and complaints.  In fact, with the appropriate response, you can turn a complaint into a positive experience for your customers.

And that’s where war rooms come in.  Many large corporations have in-house war rooms within their marketing or public relations department to monitor the use of their name across social media.

Do you need a war room?  Unless you are a big company sporting a well-known brand name, it’s probably not cost-effective.

But reputation monitoring is essential for all businesses.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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What Does One of Those Plastic Bank Tube Thingies Have to Do with PR?

Nothing really.  But an incident that recently occurred involving a plastic bank tube – or pneumatic carrier, as it’s referred to by pneumatic carrier manufacturers – brings to mind why good customer service at the most basic level really counts and can even avert a PR fiasco.

Recently, as I was trying to put the plastic tube back in its holder after depositing money at a branch of my bank, the tube slipped out of my hand and rolled under my SUV.  I tried to open my door to retrieve it, but the holder was in the way.  So I told the teller what happened and that I would pull up to try to retrieve it.  Then, I heard a loud crunch.  I had completely smashed the tube with my tire, and before I could get out to retrieve it, a furious bank security guard chased after me, yelling about my demolishing the tube.  I told him that I had already informed the teller about this situation and that she knew I was trying to return it to its holder.  I then walked back to the drive-through intercom system, and the teller told me that it wasn’t a problem; they had replacement tubes on hand.

So where’s the PR part of this story?  Well, thinking that I was a first-time carrier crushing offender, I posted my story on popular social media channels.  Soon my “friends” and “followers” came forward, one even confessing he had been too embarrassed to share his story (involving a pharmacy drive-through carrier) until I posted mine.

And then the questions came about where I bank.  Being sensitive to my fellow PR colleagues who often are forced to clean up social media messes, I avoided the “Where was this angry security guard?” inquiries, along with the questions about  why the security guard reacted the way he did.

But had I posted the name of the bank, or even created an “I dropped a bank tube at (insert bank name here) and was chewed out by a security guard” Facebook fan page, well, it could have caused a bit of a PR headache.  At the same time, the bank’s PR pros, who would ideally catch the chatter while monitoring the social media sites, could quickly respond.

Still, it’s best for employees at every level, especially those dealing directly with consumers, to always remember that one disgruntled customer can impact the views of hundreds and even thousands of social media users within just a few hours.

Everyone is watching these days!

Posted by Lisa Dimond Vasquez, Principal, DoubleDimond Public Relations.

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Protecting Your Reputation: No “Spin” Involved

Mark Twain is said to have coined the phrase,  “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”  Twain died in 1910.  One wonders what he would have thought of a world dominated by social media because his comment is truer today than ever.

Just a decade ago, it was a much different situation.  Public relations counselors would occasionally get calls from potential clients who needed to dispel a bad reputation – mostly earned, unfortunately.  This is not the best time to contact a PR firm.  It’s much easier to begin a PR firm-client relationship with a company that already has a good reputation – or even a reputation that is essentially a blank slate.

The problem isn’t that a company’s bad reputation cannot be turned around; it just takes time and is often hindered if a company doesn’t want to change its practices – just the negative perception its practices have generated.  In these cases, the PR firm ends up spending a lot of time trying to convince company executives that there are no magic wands that can make reality disappear.  The company actually has to change the way it does things.  Perhaps due to the overuse of the word “spin” to describe what PR people do, these company executives expect a miraculous turnaround.

But now, it can be even worse for companies who are not prepared.  Disgruntled former employees, disappointed customers, and competitors can fill online “review” sites with negative comments – earned or not.  Damaging blog posts, photos and videos can spread to literally millions of people before their content can be disputed or explained away.

Entire businesses have sprung up to deal with online reputation management.

And yet, the basic PR approach still applies:  Build a positive reputation to begin with, and it will be easier to control any attacks on your reputation down the road.  No “spin” involved.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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The Importance of Being Silent

Two things happened this morning that made me think about our new “very connected” world.  The first was a (thankfully, positive) discussion with a journalist about something that had happened years ago, but that is still present on the Web.  “Nothing ever goes away anymore,” he said.  So true.

The second was an incident of someone I knew, planning to forward an outraged response to an email she had received, but accidentally sending her response to the original sender instead.  Ouch!

In the first instance, it does amaze me how a simple Google search of my name produces items from jobs and volunteer activities long forgotten by me – but not by the Web. In the second instance, who hasn’t meant to forward an email with a comment to a friend or business associate, yet accidentally sent it to the originator?

We have a tendency to think that famous people – actors, politicians, media figures – are the only ones who have to worry about this.  After all, they have such a large audience, and in many cases, a wrong phrase or embarrassing video gone viral can put the brakes on their careers.

But we all have audiences we care about, and we should be mindful that what we do and say may become public.  Obviously, we should behave well anyway; but a slip in demeanor nowadays can have wide-ranging and long-lasting consequences.

As public relations counselors, we’re often tasked with encouraging our clients to communicate – to tell their story, present their message and respond quickly and clearly in a crisis.  But we now have to add a caution to our communication trainings.  After all, anything you say publicly “can and will be used,” will never be forgotten, and may define your forever.

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Don’t let this happen to you!

In a recent Twitter campaign, McDonald’s sought to promote the fact that the chain bought fresh produce from farmers.  First came the #MeetTheFarmers hashtag on Twitter; later in the day, the company launched #McDStories to generate positive stories from consumers.  Almost immediately users began tweeting stories about food with worms, food poisoning, and other such appetizing fare.  The large number of negative tweets caused a flurry of press coverage, embarrassing the company.

McDonald’s is not alone in experiencing a social media disaster.  Australia’s Qantas, car-maker Honda, and clothier Kenneth Cole are just a few more examples of corporate social media marketing plans gone awry.

Social media offers a great new venue for widespread exposure – especially for companies selling to consumers.  But it’s a double-edged sword that can also offer an opportunity for widespread embarrassment – as disgruntled employees, disappointed customers or professional gripers vent their frustrations in a very public way.

Understandably, seeing campaigns such as McDonald’s fall apart may make a marketing executive shy away from using social media to promote his company’s products or services.  But this type of unintended consequence can be avoided by remembering two important things:

1.  Have a Strategy.  As with any other public relations/marketing tool, you should know why you are doing the campaign.  Does it advance your brand?  Is it a good fit with your marketing goals?  Does it reach the right people with the right kind of message?  All of these questions should be asked before any campaign – of any type – is launched.

2.  Be an Emergency Manager.  A big part of emergency management takes place before the crisis happens.  Good emergency managers think, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  If there is a good chance your brand could be hijacked and trashed, you may want to try something else.  Even if you can’t think of a worst case scenario, have a crisis plan ready for handling any negative fallout.

Finally, monitor your campaign on a regular basis, so you will know how it’s going, and be ready to spring into action if things go awry.

There are always risks when doing social media marketing, but if well-planned and monitored, it may be well worth it for your company.

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