BrainTrust Query: How Can Retailers Avert Facebook Disasters?

Discussion
Apr 24, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of the Dynamic Experiences Group.

Social media is a great way for retailers to engage their customers. But that same level of engagement can work against them when something goes wrong.

This is what one of our readers recently experienced when a simple request turned into a Facebook disaster.

The locally owned store declined to post in their window a flyer about a lost dog. While doing a lot with and for the local community, the store has a policy against placing community material in their windows.

Before they knew it, the innocent decision blew up online. Seemingly every dog lover in the community was posting vitriolic comments about the store’s unwillingness to place a flyer in the window.

Okay, maybe you would have posted the flyer, but the same thing could happen if you turn down a request for a donation or other possible reasons.

Here are some things to consider:

1. Assess the potential damage. Could the mainstream press pick it up? Are you in danger of losing large number of customers?

In this instance, many passionate pet owners were upset, but the overall long-term threat didn’t seem high. A pet store might be different.

2. Apologize for what happened. Saying you’re sorry doesn’t mean you’re saying you did something wrong. In this case, apologies could be offered for upsetting people or not exploring other ways to assist the owners of the lost dog.

Here’s what’s interesting. This store did apologize, offered to take some action, and the comments only got more negative. Which takes me to my next point.

3. Remember, just because someone is loud doesn’t mean they speak for all of your customers. This is true in the store or online. Sometimes loud people are just passionately opinionated and often bullies. They don’t represent all customers. Our customers know we’re not perfect, and as long as we apologize if something goes wrong they’ll stay with us. That said, we do need to address the loud voices.

4. Own the storyline. If you’ve apologized and someone still posts a negative comment, directly address his/her comment. It’s highly unlikely you’ll hear from the commenter, and your customers will see that you’ve extended the olive branch. Own the storyline so the other person can’t keep fanning the flames even after you’ve apologized.

5. Last but not least, time is a great healer. People go on with their lives, and customers will still come into your store. That is, as long as you’ve addressed a negative situation as it happened.

How should retailers respond to a potential social media PR disaster? What steps were most important of those mentioned in the article? Are there others you would add?

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11 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: How Can Retailers Avert Facebook Disasters?"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

All the points made here are excellent suggestions, and I endorse each of these steps. I think the last point made is very important, that if the commenter keeps attacking, or posting negative things, even after you have explained and apologized, then you should then confront that commenter directly, and in more cases than not, he or she will back off, and the other readers will likely take more your side. Most people are fairly reasonable.

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

Rule 1 of psychological warfare (which applies here) – never refute negative propaganda. In that vein, a simple apology and an olive branch to the complainers are more than enough – let the issue die.

Brian Numainville
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

Retailers absolutely should pay attention to things that go wrong on social media. Having managed a traditional PR department in the past, the social media and blog network can take off far faster than the traditional press and can do more damage that can be “under the radar” if it’s not being monitored.

Pay attention to how closely the issue resonates with your customers, try to diffuse the issue from the onset with sincerity, if you are really at fault admit it, and don’t be afraid to proactively address the issue with a direct comment. At the same time, don’t let the issue overwhelm you, as this too shall pass.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

First, all press is good press, so take advantage of the exposure. I travel a lot and sometimes read hotel reviews. Even the very best hotels get a few bad ones. Think of the airlines. Probably every review is a bad one. Do the loud online disgruntled passengers really keep us from flying? Even if the mainstream press picks up on a loud complaint, it gets lost in the thousands of others that have been over-reported.

As a retailer, if the customer has a legit complaint, address it. But don’t give in to online bullies and be blackmailed into posting their propaganda in your window.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

Acknowledge the concern, accept responsibility, apologize, and offer restitution (if necessary). Do this in a humble, yet firm way. Sometimes humor goes a long way towards defusing the situation.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 28 days ago

Every sincere response creates new responses. Still, retailers have to interact with what occurs on social media, that potent force which continually sources from many negative-minded folks who enjoy creating Catch-22s.

Every response carries the implication of some guilt. No response suggests indifference. So tell your own story as clearly and thoughtfully as possible, avoid apologizing for your standards and rely on time to be a healer … until the next social media episode occurs, which it will.

Moral: To thine own self be true. It may be costly, but consider the alternative.

Merle Zamansky-Coen
Guest
Merle Zamansky-Coen
9 years 28 days ago

Apologize and answer any direct concerns and then stop talking and listen. It’s how we began with social media, just listen. Negative comments may be loud, but we’ve seen customers rally to our side, defending our company. Listening is critical.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

The good, the bad and the ugly about social chatter is that is it not governed. That’s a great thing, by the way. Employ a full-time staff with capacity commensurate with the volume of your organization’s social chatter. Respond immediately to both positive and negative sentiment. Globally, even for a local brand.

David Zahn
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

I would add a simple statement and question—”we acknowledge you are angry/dissatisfied/upset/etc.; how can we retain you as a customer/change your mind about our commitment to serving you/etc.” Or, words similar to that. If all they want to do is complain—that will surface. If they make outlandish requests, that will be seen (and discounted). If the request is reasonable, fulfill it. If nothing is provided back of substance (aside from the ludicrous), then share what you are prepared to offer (to show good faith).

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
9 years 28 days ago
The challenge in today’s world is that the trees no longer fall silently in the forest and a single disappointed individual can stir up a forest fire with very little effort. But I think many people realize this (take the fake AP twitter announcement yesterday) and are becoming more skeptical of single instances. Some customers may be sympathetic but I don’t believe a lot will change their shopping habits based on one event. That said, I agree with the suggestion that the store needs to get out in front of each flair up. There needs to be a way the store personnel of a particular location can communicate with their customers. In this case, it should be clearly posted on the website and in the store what the retailer’s policy is regarding signs. If the particular event is unforeseen, the new policy should be posted so that future events are avoided. I fully understand the emotional stress of a lost pet, but I think the key point is that customers feel they are being treated… Read more »
Lee Peterson
Guest
9 years 28 days ago

You know, there’s a little pre-planning involved with these types of issues. Before we went anywhere as kids, my Dad would always say, “Hey, don’t do anything stupid.” Same goes with this; temperance is a virtue.

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