And they had good reasons to be worried - the organization was still struggling with customer complaints arising from interactions with its brick and mortar offices. Though the organization had started making changes to some of the processes that customers complained about, a significant number of customers still perceived the pace of change as slow.
The organization was also in the process of retraining its frontline staff nationwide on customer service. At times the service transformation programme seemed to be taking one step forward and two steps backwards.
The Corporate Communication Director certainly had his hands full. Later on in this article, we would explore how he mitigated this risk.
It is not surprising that when war is declared truth is the first casualty. Social media is a battleground and sparks are bound to fly. Organizations would be unduly optimistic not to expect disgruntled customers to vent their frustrations using social media.
The very fact that misunderstandings can occur between the organization and its customers only makes social media even more likely to be used by customers who regard this medium (social media) as a genuine customer touch point or as a channel to get back at the organization. Some organizations have also been known to manipulate these channels to de-market their competitors.
Social media is a double edged sword especially for corporate organizations. The love garnered within a short time can be dissipated over some real or frivolous issues. Several heads of corporate communication, public relations and social media functions have had their fingers burnt from their brands’ misadventure on social media.
Social media has helped to level the playing field between individuals and corporate bodies. Many are not about to let go of something that helps them take community action against a brand if and when necessary.
For some time now the social media handlers of some public institutions have been having a running battle with “perceived enemies, opponents, detractors, critics, naysayers, doubters and sceptics” who are said to have been using social media to “insult, malign, criticize and/or discredit” the said institutions.
The difference between institutions in the private and public sector is that if one is unhappy with a private institution, s/he can immediately refuse to buy their products or services. Unfortunately, in democracies, many of us are stuck with the government of the day even when we are very displeased with their policies and actions – at least until the next elections.
A growing number of for-profit private institutions have been able to better manage their corporate brands and generally relate better with their customers across social media platforms because there is a clear risk that dissatisfied customers might walk away. Other private institutions are beginning to exploit the opportunities inherent in social media to deepen the value proposition to their customers and eventually profit from same.
My impression of some public institutions on social media is that they are either unaware of the written and unwritten rules of engagement here or they are playing by their own rules.
The anonymity that social media confers somehow emboldens people to say and do things they might have been a lot more hesitant about saying/doing in face to face settings. While they may choose to be silent at a town hall meeting, the same individuals may be motivated enough to leave their opinions on their personal social media pages or if they have the time, on the corporate brand’s social media pages. They do not want to be told what to do.
They certainly do not believe that they owe public office holders a debt of gratitude. They want some level of accountability (even if many do not believe that they would get any). Many are not aware of all the facts and even when the facts are presented, some would never believe reports presented by public institutions especially if the reality on the ground is otherwise.
This increases the possibility of conflict with individuals and groups on social media channels.
The Corporate Communication Director I mentioned earlier was able to put his house in order. Here are some of the principles he followed:
Maintain the right corporate voice
There should be a single authority that ensures that the appropriate tone of voice the organization seeks to project is what comes through in its engagement on social media. I strongly advocate for the role of a Corporate Communication Director in public institutions. This role would define the right tone of voice and ensure that all its officials use this tone irrespective of the touch point they are engaging the people on. If that is the case, a situation where a brand’s social media pages are used to lecture the people (customers) on how to behave or attack opponents would not arise.
An “us versus them” mentality hurts
Just as in the physical world, a smile does not connote love nor does a frown signify hatred. In the virtual world, likes are fickle. For instance someone can like a brand simply for research purposes.
Take Criticism as an Opportunity
Whether you are on social media or not, your brand would be spoken about- for ill or for good.Get used to it! Take criticism as an opportunity to examine what the organization is doing right and what it is not doing so welland push for appropriate amends. Or better still review the past and current feedback from customers across other brand touch points. This gives handlers an undiluted “voice of the customer” that can be harnessed profitably.
Ignore, Ignore, Ignore
Think thrice, post once. Not everything or everyone merits a response. Let it go in the light of the big picture. Rise above the banalities that exists and showcase in Authentic, Believable and Credible ways whatsoever your brand is doing right.
P.S: This article was also published in the 8th of January 2014 edition of the Punch Newspapers. Click to Read