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#PR: Negative Social Media Can Sink Your Brand
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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This past Monday (February 17), one of my colleagues on the Beyond Madison Avenue blogsite wrote a most interesting and compelling as well as thoughtful post. Titled “Customer Service: A Need for Good Brands," the post by Dwayne W. Waite, Jr. reinforced something I'd said much earlier in one of my own blogposts on Flack Me about the importance of reputation intelligence as well as the necessity of having your organization's internal customers (aka colleagues) as part of your overall PR campaigns.

At the start of his post, Dwayne said: “Imagine a time when you walked up to a counter at the coffee shop. You just purchased a latte, but didn't receive the whipped cream that you wanted. You waved a barista over to voice your concern. Naturally, you would expect them to not only answer your concern, but also to fix it in a reasonable amount of time. But they didn't. No doubt that coffee shop, and the brand of the coffee shop, received major negative points in your mind. And deservingly so; the customer service you just witnessed was awful. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this is the scenario many brands are facing — on social media.”

While I've slightly edited the composition of the above from its original post, the example offers a realistic and profound example of how a disgruntled customer could turn to social media such as Twitter or Facebook and leave a very nasty, negative tweet or post.

Accordingly to my colleague, many brands are apparently clueless about how they are faring on social media. For both advertising types and PR types, the implications of that go beyond embarrassing. Dwayne noted the training arm of Social Media Magic (based in Atlanta) recently did a survey to see how successful brands are with customer service on social media. And according to the survey results, he noted, “Not well. ...according to the survey, 26.1% of brands have had their reputations tarnished as a result of negative social media posts, and 11.4% of brands even lost revenue. Those statistics are rough, but the most surprising one was that 23.4% of the brands surveyed not only have no strategy to handle customer service on social media, but also have no plans in place to develop one.” (Italics mine.)

Ouch! Can you see where this is going in terms of a brand's digital reputation?

Dwayne further noted in his post surveys such as the one by Social Media University (the training arm I mentioned above) “bring to light the disconnect marketing professionals these days have with advertising, sales, and customer service. Though each activity is different, one cannot survive well without the other.”

Driving home the point, he continues:

“Advertising drives sales. Customer service keeps the customer happy, reinforces the sale, and creates an advocate. A business cannot devote more time to one of the activities and less to another. If we choose to use these digital tools, we must develop strategies and practices that do not damage the brand's reputation. Advertising a product for a brand that has horrible customer service is not going to raise revenue. Yes, in many cases, customer service isn't the "sexiest" thing we can talk about, but it isn't far-fetched in claiming that it is a very important issue. Customers want to be heard, no matter if it is in person or on Twitter.” (Italics mine.)

Not only do I agree with the above but would also venture to comment that good PR campaigns help drive sales. In one of my first blogposts here on Flack Me, I noted how an organization's internal customers can be very effective “brand ambassadors” if you will, but only if they are properly included in marketing, public relations, and advertising efforts. As my noted colleague just showed us, poor service on the part of a member of any organization dealing with consumers can have a really negative impact.

Back in the days of World War II, Americans were constantly encouraged to watch whom they spoke to about sensitive matters. One of the most famous posters was one that said “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”

In today's digital age and the presence of many brands in the digital marketplace, loose posts or tweets can help sink brands. Whether we are engaged in PR, marketing, advertising, or any endeavor that puts our brands before the public, we constantly need to be aware of the importance of great customer service. As Dwayne noted, if we want that business, we need to “listen up.”

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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