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Don’t Get Mad, Get Online; Social Media As Bully Pulpit

Social media has become not only a way to connect with friends and contacts, but a bully pulpit about customer service. Today’s Wall Street Journal features yet another story about large companies who act fast to avert PR disaster when someone complains publicly about their service or brand.

And, why not? Who hasn’t used social media to air their ire?  A couple of years ago, I went berserk on a customer service rep for a major retailer that wouldn’t allow a furniture return as promised.  I ranted that I would use my PR skills and media contacts to make sure everyone knew about my terrible experience. I even mentioned the name of a national consumer reporter I knew in high school (and whom I haven’t seen or spoken to since.)  My tirade was ridiculous…but, for whatever reason, the store sent a truck for the furniture the following week.

Coincidence?  Maybe, but taking our grievances public is becoming more and more common, for two reasons. First, many companies offer poor or nonexistent customer service.  Two, using social media as a complaint platform can produce a response. Cable not working? Blog about it!  Airline lost your bags? Take it to YouTube!  On hold with customer service? Facebook it!

But, lately, I worry that we’re tipping the balance. It’s like crying wolf; abuse your influence – however little or large it may be – and people stop listening.  Even worse, there are those who would use their social media influence or SEO skills to settle petty scores, or get something for nothing.  Case in point:  the now-infamous Crocs “blogola blackmail” event where a blogger threatened to post negative comments if she didn’t receive free shoes.  The incident is very troubling…but not very surprising.

I’m not saying we should keep quiet about bad business or deficient customer service practices, but maybe the full-court press (or stupid threats about it) should be more of a last resort than a default behavior.  Besides, pulling off a last-laugh-style stunt like Dave Carroll’s video complaint against United Airlines, requires getting over your customer rage…it takes patience, creativity, and deft humor.

What’s particularly useful, and every bit as empowering, is to post about companies when things go the other way – at those rare times when a product or service is actually above expectations.  And, until then…well, we’re in good company.

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