Worldwide Word of Mouth: The consumer strikes back

SocialMedia

In previous blogs I spoke about how companies are using social media to communicate with their customers in a more immediate and personal basis as well as how companies are developing new ways of marketing to these customers. For this entry I’m going to focus on how customers are using social media to influence the companies they do business with.

There’s an old saying that goes along the lines of ‘A happy customer tells 1 person, an unhappy customer tells 10’. A generalisation obviously but it holds water. An unhappy customer is far more likely to want to vent about their experience and tell more people than a happy customer.

In this age of social media that can spiral out of control rapidly. Remember the Facebook ‘like’ calculation from the previous blog? 200 x 200 x 200 = 8,000,000? A ranting post about a rude customer service agent may not have the same resonance as a cat video but it will still reach incalculably more people than it would pre-social media. The damage could be massive.

This has led companies to be more tech savvy and embrace social media as a way to counter these rants before they begin. I previously mentioned Metro trains here in Melbourne as an example of this. Train running late? Tweet to @metrotrains and usually within 10 minutes there’s a reply apologising and explaining to you directly what’s going on. Majority of the time this halts the issue causing any further damage to the company.

But what happens when it’s not that simple? What happens when a company is doing something disagreeable at a production level and the consumer wants change?

In 2010 Nestle were at the centre of one such storm, when a group of environmental activists began an online campaign to persuade the company to cease using Indonesian palm oil in its products. The use of this palm oil, the campaign claimed, lead to increased deforestation and the destruction of habitat for threatened and endangered species. The campaign went viral and Nestle yielded to the pressure. They agreed to phase out it’s use of palm oil and switch to purely sustainable oils.

This shows that not only is social media the new way for brands to influence consumer decisions but also for consumers to influence companies’ decisions.

Social media has levelled the playing field more than anything else since the dawn of Industry and as long as consumer and public relations professionals continue to keep the channels open both sides can use this to create a more satisfying future for all involved.

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