Are Retailers Wasting Social Media Efforts On Idiots?

Discussion
Sep 20, 2013

As I wrote last December, social media can provide a valuable customer service function when call centers or stores do not meet their obligations of service. A simple, clearly stated complaint can get a consumer a quick response from a retailer and a resolution of the issue. But for all the time spent dealing with legitimate issues, are retailers also, as a portion of an Advertising Age headline reads, "Wasting Time on Idiots Like Me?"

The author of the article, Simon Dumenco, the "Media Guy" at Ad Age, includes a reference of a silly exchange he had via Twitter with IHOP, the "Pancake Guys" of America. (Editor’s note: Definitely worth reading for a quick half-smile if not an outright giggle.) In the end, however, the exchange led Mr. Dumenco to wonder just how "responsive" brands needed to be to consumers via social media.

He singled out Twitter, which makes it easy for individuals to send out "a bitchy tweet" in seconds. Of the relatively few consumers who choose to connect with brands via Twitter and social media, many are "cranks" or just looking to stir up trouble. What’s the point of tweeting back?

Is there any value to retailers responding to “cranks and mischief-makers” via social media or are they simply wasting resources by doing so? How should companies determine whether or not to respond via social channels?

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15 Comments on "Are Retailers Wasting Social Media Efforts On Idiots?"


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Bob Phibbs
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

The issue is not the Tweet but the media hunger for the bitchy twitch. While smaller retailers have less to lose, large brands can ill avoid not dealing with the idiots or the experts.

Dick Seesel
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

I recently had a customer service issue with a major cable company, and was unable to resolve the problem until I posted a comment on Twitter. At that point, the social networking team at the company intervened and provided at least a partial solution to the issue.

My point is that retailers and service providers ignore the “cranks” (I qualified in this case) at their own risk. It’s true that review sites are dominated by the disgruntled rather than the satisfied, but it’s also a sign of a responsive company that it pays close attention to the tweets, posts and online reviews.

Peter Fader
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

The Ad Age article by Simon Dumenico is a fun read and, more importantly, a valid caricature of the nature of most brand/retail related social media activity. Most of it is, indeed, a waste of time from a purely commercial standpoint — but no different than a casual conversation that routinely occurs in a brick-and-mortar store. The point is that retailers need to be willing to mix it up with chatty customers whenever/wherever they show up, but they shouldn’t draw deep meaning from most of those activities (any more than they would attempt to record and leverage the in-store conversation).

I think about it as obligatory customer service, without any with great value for CRM purposes. So let the conversation flow, and don’t over-invest in it. And don’t try to attach any kind of ROI metrics to it.

Max Goldberg
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Companies should respond to legitimate complaints and praise. Leave cranks alone. The public can see them for what they are and most of the time they will not hurt a brand.

Joan Treistman
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

It could get complicated. Does a retailer pick and choose what is worthy and unworthy of responding to? I’m guessing yes…in the long run. Given all the transactional data available, retailers could make a policy statement about their selection process and thereby eliminate wasting some resources.

“It is our policy to address all initial complaints with a personalized response. When an individual forwards negative remarks frequently, i.e. once a month or more often, we will assume we cannot provide a remedy and will discontinue personalized responses to that individual.”

Gordon Arnold
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Customer service issues are almost never pleasant, especially for the customer. Generally the frustrations leading to distemper are due to lack of information or misinformation. Customers that are forced to submit their issues or complaint three or more times to different individuals that for whatever reason are unable to provide for the customers’ needs will use any venue to voice their opinion to the public. Companies should see these efforts as a warning to the public from the consumer and not as a misguided attack on the company and its employees.

The 21st century makes it easy for information technology-literate consumers to inform the whole world how and why they are unhappy. These same tools also allow for companies to demonstrate what actually occurred from the company’s perspective. This is not taking place for several reasons. The two biggest reasons that companies do not publicly respond to outspoken consumers are associate and management training, and proper and accurate documentation of customer complaints. With this in mind, I question who in fact the idiots and troublemakers are.

Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

There is an old adage of retail that angry customers tell 5-10 people, and consumers with a good experience tell 1 or 2. The cranks and complainers have always been out there, but now they have platforms to shout to the world. If a retailer doesn’t at least selectively respond, they leave it up to their consumer base to try and decide what is real.

Retailers simply can not afford to ignore social media. In addition to the “cranks,” a retailer’s very best customers are proactively engaged in an omni-channel world. The key for retailers is to invest in both technology and trained staff to filter what deserves a response, and how to respond. No media is free … especially social media.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

My theory is simple: Cranks are the ones who will use social media to tell their world what your problems are and why they should not shop at your stores. So use social media to your advantage and resolve their issues before it becomes dishonestly viral. This is the true definition of making a mountain out of a mole hill. Solve the problem before it becomes a problem to resolve.

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Too many people are still looking for their 15 minutes of fame. Our society has too many people with nothing to do but cause trouble. We have all come to understand the internet is not always truthful; there are many lies and half truths being spread at the speed of light. Banter is a waste of time. One clear post branding the statement as being inaccurate or incorrect is all that is required.

Zel Bianco
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Absolutely. Retailers should respond as often as possible to consumers, especially when those comments can be read by other potential customers. There should be a documented protocol to responding to tweets, preferably from a small group of people to keep messaging similar. If consumers are irate, they should be directed to contact a representative directly so as not to have the drama play out on social media.

Kenneth Leung
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

The problem is that cranks and mischief makers are getting their share of media attention, compared to the old days when it was just the call centers and mail room that had to deal with them. A certain degree of engagement is needed from a PR perspective on social media to at least keep things from spinning out of control

Lee Kent
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Whether it is a crank or legit problem/concerm/question, if your name is mentioned, you need to know about it and take some action. You never know what might go viral and what real damage control may be required. Use social media to mitigate the damage.

Shep Hyken
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

Can you afford the mistake of confusing a “crank or mischief maker” with a legitimate customer problem? These “pranksters” are a small percentage of the social media comments. It’s like shrinkage. It’s going to happen even though you try to prevent it. So, it’s built into the system. Factor in that a small percentage of your social media comments aren’t legit. It’s just part of doing business.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
8 years 8 months ago

I have no experience specifically with social media communication but, in general, if you ignore the cranks, they usually go away. It’s boring for these people if they don’t get under your skin.

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
8 years 8 months ago

In today’s age, it is not wise policy to avoid engaging with the various folks who choose to comment via Twitter — yes, including the cranks and idiots. As one person noted, these conversations are similar to the sidebar discussions in a brick and mortar store. The big difference to those conversations, however, is that few if any overhear the discussion. On Twitter, by contrast, anyone can listen who chooses to. So the ability of the responder to engage well (as the IHOP example illustrated) is critical — one snotty come-back and the brand is crucified.

In short, yes we all must engage with our customers, no matter how inane the comment. And those entrusted to do so had better be expertly trained to minimize the possibility of a gaffe, and maximize the potential goodwill.

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