Monday, May 17, 2010

Social Media: Maybe It’s Not for Everyone.

These days, it’s just about impossible to find a social media “expert” who doesn’t recommend that your company and/or clients jump on the social media bandwagon. And why not? It really is an amazing new channel that both empowers customers and is about as close to the holy grail of 1-to-1 communications as we ever may get.

But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment: Is there ever a situation where getting into social media is a mistake? Well, just maybe. There are at least a few companies on the social media scene that are taking a thumping.

I’m talking about companies that, justly or unjustly, are seen as having a less than sterling reputation when it comes to customer service. With the advent of social media, these companies have to deal with more than angry customers on the phone—they now have angry customers on the Net, with the ability to amplify their message to thousands of others, often on the company’s own social networking sites.

One vertical that seems to have more than its fair share of angry Netizens are the cable companies. Take for instance, Comcast. In a past post, I wrote about some Comcast service-related issues I was having with the cable conglomerate, but also pointed out that their Twitter presence was top-notch.

As far as I can tell, Comcast has no official Facebook presence but, as you might expect, others have filled the void. A quick look reveals two separate Facebook pages for people who don’t like the company, including “I Hate Comcast”. Yet the fact that Comcast doesn’t have its own corporate Facebook page may be a good move—especially when you take a look at competitor Verizon, who is being forced to fight off critics right on its home turf.

On Verizon’s Facebook Discussion page are threads that include “Verizon sucks” and “Awful Customer Service”. More vitriol can be found on the company’s “Fans of FiOS” page. Along with accolades, there is a steady stream of negative postings like: “Verizon has the worst customer service in the world and here are all the things I now HATE about FiOS”, followed by a 10-point list.

What’s most interesting are the responses from the “Fans of FiOS crew” (aka Verizon employees) who have the unenviable job of answering these rants. In most cases, they respond in a bright and chirpy manner that deals with the issue at hand and ignores the nastiness. But many times the FiOS crew appears to let damaging claims go unchallenged.

Here are two customer postings that did not get an official company response:

“Beware. Their billing is atrocious. Watch your bills closely, they are playing games with the bills.”
“Verizon lies again with their offers and promotion propaganda and I am not the only one. Many people on this board are not getting the $150.00 gift card that you promised when we signed up as new costumers. Explain please!!”

The query below received some polite technical advice regarding the Xbox issue, but ignored the “bill” and ”dedicated line” comments:
“This service blows I’ve been getting so much lag on xbox live…my bill is crazy high every month going up and I’m still in my one year contract…and by the way its not fiber to the home… its a shared network too… stop advertising “dedicated line” until u back it up.”

Ouch! So what do you do if you’re Verizon, now that the social media genie is out of the bottle, and you’re consistently being hammered on your own Facebook page? Well, the “Fans of FiOS Team on Facebook” recently took action. They put up a “Notice Regarding Repeat Posts on the Wall” which in part reads:

To our valued Fans,
Recently, we’ve seen a number of fans repeatedly posting questions regarding content that we’ve addressed in the past…these repetitious posts have made it more difficult to address new questions…for this reason, we have decided to begin removing repeat posts of the same topic.

So they’ve given themselves the “right to remove posts”—which could mean taking down any complaint on any issue they feel like they’ve already addressed. This is sure to tick off some fans of FiOS, who see the Facebook page as a public square—but I think Verizon has done the right thing.

At a certain point, you just can’t let your own Web pages be a platform that assists in your own demise and further damages you’re already less than golden reputation.

What do you think?

This post originally appeared on the blog Loyalty Truth on May 11, 2010 and was written by Tom Rapsas.