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Why social media does not ruin businesses, people do

We are all at it, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, LinkedIn and countless others - writing our thoughts, sharing our lives with virtual friends all over the globe. Businesses are at it too, during a recent trip to Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, I was encouraged by a smiling sales assistant to ‘like’ the Mall’s Facebook page - is it me, but why on earth would I want to do that - so I can be bombarded with nonsense information about a Mall really... it’s sad. I prefer to be smiled at and spoken to by a real person.

 

One by one, businesses jump on the social media bandwagon, launching their Twitter feeds, Facebook pages etc... pushing to create more noise about their services than the competition. However, very few consider the risks associated with doing so, and are badly prepared for them when they happen. 

 

Take United Airlines. In 2008, a passenger, Dave Carroll, caught a flight to Omaha from Halifax, with a layover in Chicago. He checked in his $3,500 guitar and boarded the plane. During the layover he overheard another passenger mention that the baggage handlers at O’Hare airport were throwing guitars. Sure enough, when he arrived at his destination, his guitar was broken. Dave made a claim for his guitar but was told he was ineligible for compensation as the claim was filed 24hours after his plane landed. What happened next is a lesson for all companies with an online presence - remember, you can have the best brand in the world, but if you treat people badly, they have the power - through social media - to destroy your reputation. 

 

Dave wrote a song about his experience, Dave’s song ‘United Breaks Guitars’ was number one on iTunes, had over 150,000 views on You Tube in one day, in three days the video had garnered over 1million views. That’s not all, the episode also hit United’s stock price. Shares in the airline fell by 10% in four days, costing shareholders over $180million. Not only that, the story has entered into folklore, United’s reputation is damaged forever. 

 

What would it have cost United to make right this wrong and for none of this to have happened? A smile and an ‘I’m really sorry sir, I’ll make sure you are fully compensated’. 

 

So, what can be learned from this episode? 

In a world where everything can be shared with an audience of billions at the click of a button, we are constantly being judged, assessed on our ability to deliver in the way our customers expect us to. I wrote last week about the importance of a brand promise and the need for customers, employees, investors and everyman to know what to expect from your brand - and live it every day.

 

If United had treated Dave in an appropriate, caring and human way, he would never have written what he did, the share price would have continued to maintain it’s level and the world would not know that O’Hare baggage handlers didn’t care about his guitar. 

 

Social media is a messaging platform, it is powerful and can help build brand reputation. However, it is the real, face to face relationships you have with your customers that matter most. By helping your customers understand what your brand stands for and by building relationships with your customers - one by one if required, they will trust you, they will forgive you and they will understand that we are all human and sometimes even the best of us make mistakes. 

 

I met with a CEO of a large organisation in the region a few days ago, he told me proudly that the company had launched its new social media platform - fantastic. When I asked him how he was managing the platform, I received a blank look... a pause, and then with a smile he told me that an intern was overlooking it all. Seriously!

 

Social media does not ruin businesses, people do. Invest in your people, ensure they understand your brand, what it stands for and what your promises are. Form relationships with your customers - meaningful relationships, a sense of community and shared responsibility - they will love you more for it, and they will forgive you when things don’t work out the way you planned.

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