A recent posting by a social media marketer, Praveen Inbarajan on Linkedin describeed a scenario where a Indian cab company’s Facebook promo advertisement was bringing more than the cab company, TaxiForSure (TFS) bargained for: a deluge of negative comments.

Inbarajan went on to give a commentary on some of the more vocal feedback provided by Facebook users whom  the promo advertisement had targeted with good precision. While I agree with Inbarajan’s interpretation of the grouses of the respondents to TFS’s post, I feel that Inbarajan, as a social media marketer, missed the point of such feedback.

Negative feedback is not necessarily equals to bad public relation. No one, least of all a cab company with many drivers, can please every body all the time. The billion dollar question is, how TFS deals with these negative responses.

TFS could have deleted all the negative comments to “protect” its public image and we are none the wiser which fortunate for TFS that it did not. What has turned the tide in TFS’s favour is indeed it readiness to admit the errors as pointed out by the respondents and apologized. In my book, if I am not happy with a company’s services and complained there are three things I will be receptive to which will turn me from an irate respondent to a sympathetic listener:

(a) They apologize for the errors:

This will calm down most people with a grouse with the company’s services or products. It is the first step to resolve a customer relation issue.

(b) They (presumably after looking at the compliant) admit fault:

This will have the effect of defusing any explosive situation. However in some litigious business environment, admitting fault may have implications on compensation etc.  however, a company should always treat this as the first step to stop litigation. In most cases, the complainer just want to get heard. If you hear them out and ascertain the fact that they are right, you can, in most cases win them over.

(c) They offer some token redress to the complainer:

Most people who feel that they have been wronged by a company’s staff, services or products, will be very prepared to accept even token redress such as a Starbucks voucher, or discount coupons. This is because most people do not expect to receive any response from the company, let alone an apology (best from someone with seniority) and a token of appreciation. The good will generated from this gesture is worth many times the face value of the vouchers.

I think what is worst will be a situation where having put up a promo advertisement like TFS did, a company’s staff are not monitoring the Facebook post and respond to feedback in a timely manner. Timely means at most 3 – 4 hours after the comment is made, not three to four days! Wasting the promo ad cost is the least of the problems, giving negative impression to all those who have responded is worst.

I have a situation whereby my team put up a promo on a posting of a new property development project for a company and obtained over 90 responses, some asking to be contacted as these were clearly  prospective customers wanted more information. The RM90.00 (less than US$30) budget spent had created the kind of reach and engagement that we designed. I thought this posting and promo advertisement would have generated some good sales for the properties company. However, the lynch pin of the whole work was of course the timely and accurate engagement by the project owner, the marketing staff of this development project. No one from the marketing team bothered to take the effort to engage with the prospective customers despite desperate pleas from me. In short, no one took ownership for the campaign (except the poor social media guys). We had a situation that not only created negative vibes among the respondents but anyone else looking at the Facebook posting will have a negative impression of the company as a whole. This is the worst kind of social media nightmare compared to the one that TFS has to deal with!

After the above episode, I changed my operational principle: before I set up a campaign on Facebook for anyone, I would get the sign off from the senior manager to confirm that she/he would ensure that her/his staff would not only monitor the posting regularly, but put effort to respond to comments in a timely manner. I needed the buy-in for the whole campaign from the project owner, otherwise it would be no deal from me! This evidently has turned out to be a beneficial move. A social media marketing campaign is as effective as the campaign owner’s preparedness to engage directly, timely and effectively with the intended target audience. This is no rocket science!

Footnote: This article is contributed by Dr. Chow Yong Neng who for a period of close to 10 months was engaged fully with using social media to drive engagement and traffic to his employer’s news portal.

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