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Can social media hold businesses to account?
Claire | October 22, 2012
Over the last couple of weeks, three social media exchanges have gone viral. All of them grabbed the headlines, although not all for the same reasons.
- On the one hand, we have O2. Its customer service team scored serious kudos points on Twitter by responding to customer @Tunde24_7 in slang. The exchange quickly hit the headlines and earned O2 some much-needed positive press ahead of another crippling service outage. In return, @Tunde24_7 found his Twitter avatar plastered all over the press the next day.
- Then there’s Bodyform, a company which responded to a man’s tweet about their advertising with a speedily-assembled parody video. Hoax or not, the post did the trick: the video received 3,700 shares on Facebook and 6,900 likes (and counting).
- Finally, there’s the case of Thomas Cook, a well-known British travel brand. A Facebook user named Thomas Cook cheekily asked the travel agent if it would give him a free holiday in Paris in return for him indirectly advertising his namesake company for 26 years. Thomas Cook said no. Eight days later, lowcostholidays.com took advantage of a truly rare PR opportunity: the chance to show up one of their biggest rivals on the social web. Thomas Cook (the person) got his holiday. But the genius move was arranging it in secret; the news was only revealed once he’d taken up their offer – and shared a photo of himself in front of the Eiffel Tower. Patience was a virtue in this case: lowcostholidays.com effectively shamed Thomas Cook (the company) for its inability to seize a viral success story that was handed to them on a plate.
All of these examples demonstrate that some brands have a sense of humor, and that has won them precious inches in some of the UK’s biggest newspapers and blogs. But the Thomas Cook case is an interesting example how people love to see the underdog swoop in and claim victory.
Facebook campaigns can be powerful tools for the consumer: see also the case of Brown’s, a bar in Coventry which was forced to close after 100,000 Facebook users protested its refusal to serve soldiers in uniform. Gap withdrew a t-shirt design after Facebook users complained of racism. Topman, a British high street retailer, withdrew slogan shirts which appeared to legitimise rape: one had the heading “I’m so sorry, but” followed by a series of checkboxes: “You provoked me” and “I was drunk” being two of them.
Social channels are a two-way street, and companies need to be prepared to accept complaints or requests and handle them gracefully. Femfresh did the exact opposite: when consumers mocked a campaign that encouraged women to post euphemisms “for down there”. Rather than back down and admit their mistake, the company scolded its fans for posting offensive language. Eventually, it closed its Facebook page.
Companies on social media have the power to right wrongs and show their lighter side. Users have a proven track record of bringing companies to account. The key to success is being smart enough to know the difference – and nimble enough to act.
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Images from: Free Digital Photo Net
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