Here’s a problem that’s been on my mind for a while, but I avoided writing about it as I wrongly thought things would get better and there won’t be anything to write about.
Two things really bug me when it comes to companies replying to online posts:
#1 – They reply when you don’t really expect them to, with something you’re not willing to follow up. Surveillance central, aka “Can’t say anything on twitter nowadays for fear of being stalked by some company”
#2 – You desperately want their attention but no one gives a crap about what you say. Wastelands or online echo chambers, aka “I’d reach you in other ways, but you’ve blocked pretty much everything else.”
Case in point, when you don’t expect them to reply:
You say something good about a company, and a (clever) social media person has a search string to let them know. They find you, and if you’re super nice and they’re also nice to people who spread good things, you might get a little something. Pret are a nice example in my mind. I visit a few of them and regularly commented on how pleasant and chatty the people serving are, and at one point I got a Pret card with £10 on it and a handwritten note. Unexpected and pleasant – win-win. They never excluded me on the basis that I’m an advertising person who knows the industry or whatever.
You say something neutral, and somebody picks up on it, making you aware of their existence. You feel a bit weird and self-conscious because every time you’ll say something about them, in the future someone will reply to you, like they’re monitoring you.
You say something bad, and they take offence – and make it clear that they’re not happy.
Oddly enough, BT are one of those examples. My issues with them escalate way beyond anything a social media (or call centre rep) could fix, and I always make that clear: why do we still need phone lines for the internet? As far as social media goes, I will be angry about the consequences of this and tweet about ad nauseam sometimes, even if it’s futile. I suspect many people feel the same, and this is largely because I’ve seen research to confirm this ‘sentiment’ business. None of it matters to their business: there’s little we can do, we are still paying customers. But they (and others similar to them) insist on changing that and turning us from ‘negatives’ to ‘neutrals’ at least.
Now I know people say things online that they would never say in person, and that people who seem normal are
idiots unrecognisable online.
I also know that someone’s neck may be on the cutting board when someone sees a horribly high ‘negative’ sentiment in a social media analysis. But when you (agency, shop, pop-up stall) sell someone a ‘social media strategy’, by all means – focus your efforts on where they will make a difference:
- Try to turn around disgruntled customers, but let some go. Give up when it’s not worth it, not because it’s hard to do.
- Funnel people into a better customer service process; if it’s shit, yet crucial to the business then at least suggest an overhaul. You’re in a prime position to say whether this is worth it and what it will achieve. Social media managers are rarely the inside people, and even if it’s someone within the company, it’s likely they are a “front desk”. You’ll rarely resolve a thorny issue in 140 chars, but some do the funnelling well (BT make you fill in forms that at least go to the people who can fix things, so do Vodafone, Three email you personally, and so on).
- Don’t reward idiocy – people ask for things just because they can and websites tell them to (Money Saving Expert forums, I’m looking at you). Money off for everyone isn’t a solution, so that’s why you funnel people away from the public view: email them, ring them if you can – but giving them money should be a last resort for something really horrible. Restaurants are so bad with this – they’re always back where they started and people will leave a comment among the lines of ‘X were great, they gave me a £20 voucher when I told them my fries were cold’ whenever someone they know has a problem with them. This is largely because you might reach that point where you’ve given them lots of free things and “sentiment” doesn’t change or worse, there’s no effect on sales, visits, whatever it is.
Then there’s the flipside: companies that have bought into a ‘broadcast’ social media strategy. This translates to someone telling them about the novelty of scheduling tweets: it’s like talking to yourself, but pretending you’re encouraging ‘dialogue’ based on topics your ‘audience’ likes:
Of course there’s no need to say anything, because you assume you’re already so cool, people will want to talk about you. Nike is – and even they take time to reply to the most mundane of tweets, tumblrs, questions, what have you. If you have something genuine to complain about - no word whatsoever. And even if you ‘reply’ to their stuff, you reply in vain. It’s talking to a wall. Internet wasteland, if you will.
What is wrong with people?