The Social Web often reminds me of an unruly schoolyard, filled with brand attention bullies complaining about every little problem they encounter with brands: "Company XY, my shuttle is late. Why do you suck so bad?" or "Airline AB, you lost my bag. Never again."Social Media 'celebrities' use their social graph to put pressure on companies to right a perceived wrong. And then there are the laudable examples where people use their creativity to serve a painful blow to the balance sheet of a major brand.
Let's just take the example of a hotel shuttle being late. You might tweet: "Where is the XY shuttle? The AB shuttle seems to be everywhere. Where are you XY?" What does this individual expect from brand XY? The Twitter SWAT team flying with the speed of light to your location, carrying you in a throne to your hotel room? Reality is, the most one can expect is an apology: "We apologize for the delay. We always strive to provide the best...", well you know the rest. Fact is, that's really all a company can say. Things happen. Maybe one driver called in sick. Flat tire. Whatever. You can't expect the Twitter CSI staff to start a full-fledged investigation into something that trivial. So, why did they even respond? Because most brands were shamed into Social Media by their competitors or the petty complaints of their customers. And, when you're shamed into Social Media, you tend to erect Potemkin villages.
According to a Russian Myth, fake settlements were erected at the direction of Russian minister Potyomkin to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787. According to the story, Potyomkin had hollow facades of villages constructed along the desolate banks of the Dnieper River in order to impress the monarch and her travel party with the value of her new conquests, thus enhancing his standing in the empress' eyes. (Wikipedia)
Too many Social Media initiatives are Potemkin villages. Some poor marketing guy with no power, no training and no strategy is set loose and tries to change the world. Yes, he cares. He works hard. Just like the first digital specialists in the 90's when they were slaving away in a humid, dark basement. Basically checkboxes for brands: "Oh yeah, we do social."
My plea to brands: Don't get shamed into Social Media. You don't need to respond to each and every petty complaint. In my college days, I worked for United and heard "I will never fly your airline again." at least 5 times a day. People forget their passport, they miss their connection - facts of life. And all these people came back to fly with United again. People get angry, people say things, people forget. Instead of erecting Potemkin villages of Social Media, improve your product/service. Just because everybody does Social Media, doesn't mean you have to follow the herd pretending to care. Improving your overall service communicates caring much more than any Twitter response. No outside forces should tell you when to join the conversation and develop a Social Media strategy. You will know when your organization is ready.
And a plea to all of us: Is it really such a big deal that your coffee took 5 minutes, the flight is delayed, the customer service agent didn't smile and house cleaning woke you up at 8.15am? Why don't we reserve those Social Media attacks to real problems? All these new megaphones are nice but we should use them sparingly: Complete customer service failure. No opportunity to communicate with a brand. Sharing with the world each petty issue creates way too much noise. So much noise, brands won't hear you anymore.