Wendy on the power of social media

Wendy on the power of social media

Social media and that fact that more and more consumers have smartphones is a combination which has the power to bring a mighty company to its knees within days.


KFC knows that all too well. Remember the recent chicken washing scandal? 

A Braamfontein man stood on the balcony of his flat and captured those KFC employees blasting raw chicken on that grubby cement floor with a firehose, then uploaded them to Twitter, all with a few taps on his smartphone. 

The chances of that happening even a year ago, when smartphones were less prevalent, would have been very low, if not zero. Smartphones enable ordinary citizens to take photos or videos and post them onto Facebook or Twitter within seconds. That’s why it’s said that a business’ reputation is now, literally, in the palms of their customers’ hands.

That KFC chicken washing story was splashed in newspapers and carried by radio and TV stations for six days and sparked 55 million social media impressions. 

Of course, it didn't end there - next to go viral was the video posted on a Durban restaurant review Facebook group of a KFC worker in Umhlanga sharpening knives on the pavement. And then the third strike in less than a month - a photo of an allegedly raw Twister.

KFC admitted to me that the impact on sales was massive. And also that “people are trying to cash in by sending these things and threatening to post on social media..."

To an extent this was predictable. For so long, companies were able to “contain” consumer complaints via phone or email within their own customer care divisions. Not any more. 

Now the complaints are very, very public on social media platforms, and the complainants expect company responses to be public, too. So the balance of power has shifted, radically.

Some companies are getting it right, and some - most, I venture to say, are getting it very wrong. Some by refusing to engage on social media at all. Which is a bit of a worry when you consider that it’s predicted that by 2020, just five years from now, 90% of customer service will be happening online.

The do’s for companies, when it comes to social media

Do respond quickly - within an hour. Like it not, that’s the consumer’s expectation. And I’m not talking about an auto response.

Be empathetic and quick to apologise if the company has messed up.

Use real language, don't use stuffy corporate-speak like “we apologise for the inconvenience”. Be empathetic. Twitter users expect a bit of humour, too, but don’t try and be funny if the complainant is clearly very cross.

The don’ts

Don’t respond to every negative comment by trying to get the complainant offline or you’ll be seen as defensive and cagey.

Do ensure consistency in responses between your social media response team, customer care and marketing people. It’s no good having a brilliant, appropriate response on Twitter if the customer care people drop the ball by reverting to staid, stuffy, corporate speak and a lack of empathy.

And do ensure that your operating hours are relevant.

It’s totally ridiculous for a company with as many customers as MTN, for example to stop responding to tweets at 5pm, when Twitter is busiest from 8 to 10pm.

So here’s an example of a company getting it right:

A woman by the name of Denise Sherman tweeted that the Rosebank branch of Vida coffee wouldn’t redeem her “free coffee” voucher. #brandfail, she said. A short while later, when she had no response from Vida, she tweeted: “Clearly their social media guys are out having a cup of coffee. Wonder if they get vouchers for that.”

Shortly afterwards, Vida tweeted: “Ola! Back from our coffee break. :-) Seriously, no excuses. Voucher is valid. DM (direct message) coming your way.” 

Bit of humour, to match hers, but immediately fessed up, and dealt with the very valid complaint.

Advice for consumers

Play nice. When complaining about a company be truthful, fair and avoid drama. Don’t abuse your power.

Be clear about what you want as an outcome.

Avoid capital letters and a zillion exclamation marks and emoticons. Rather back up your case with a photo or video.

Don’t make threats or mess with a company’s logo. 

Don’t disparage a company with lies or half-truths on Facebook or Twitter and you could attract legal heat.

Recently a Durban auctioneer was successful in his Durban High Court interdict, which effectively shut down a Facebook post by a man who falsely accused him of crookery. That’s apparently emboldened other business owners to plan similar litigation to stop "wholesale abuse of social media" by consumers to defame and damage businesses.

So, if you're posting about a business, you're safe as long as what you're saying is true and in the public interest. If not, you're playing with fire.

A Facebook post gone viral 

And finally, have you seen the Woolworth Facebook post that’s been doing the rounds this week?

A Sandton chap by the name of Richard Webster posted a pic of the ingredients list on the pack of Woolworth’s “earth friendly” laundry pods, and wrote: “Dear Woolworths, Do your earth friendly washing pods contain 100% vagina oil or is it synthetic?”

Sure enough, the list includes vagina oil (vanilla oil).

Woolworths responded: “Yes, we used the word vagina oil. And yes, it’s not a typo. Perhaps we’re being a bit pretentious using the latin word for a vanilla ingredient, but it’s good to know you’re reading our labels!”

That beats the hello out of “sorry for the inconvenience” if you ask me. A pretty good response, given that some man, no doubt, couldn’t resist including that on a laundry product label. Oh, and it’s going to be re-packed, apparently, to exclude the V word.


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