Unless you were living under a rock last week, or on an amazing trip and off the grid; you had to have heard the firestorm that erupted when the Susan G. Komen Foundation pulled their funding from Planned Parenthood. In a very clear demonstration of the power of social media, their decision was reversed and now they find themselves trying to figure out how to recover.
This story is not new. In the past three months, we have seen Bank of America back down from charging their customers a fee for ATM usage. We have seen Verizon Wireless back down from charging their customers a “convenience fee” for paying their bills online. While these are national and international stories, it can happen to you and has happened in the past to several travel agents. Read on.
The Wedding Consultant
We all compete against one another to some degree. Sometimes it is cursory, and other times a little more head-to-head. It is all goo until someone decides to fight unfairly. There were two agencies in the same region specializing in weddings. Agency A was a little more aggressive; a little better funded, and as a result was reaping the rewards with increased bookings and a growing loyal client base. Agency B, was not quite as aggressive and did not invest quite as much into their business.
When Agency B saw the results (after all they were losing bookings to Agency A), rather than pick up their game, they decided to fight dirty and go social on them. Posts to popular blogs, forums, and Facebook pages began to show up from a disgruntled “customer” of Agency A. The story was significant enough to garner a lot of sympathy from the casual readers and a small firestorm ensued as Agency A’s hard-earned reputation began to erode. Agency A responded in a professional manner and rebuked the assertions. The storm died down when Agency A came out right and said that they never had a customer of that name and suggested that the customer produce an invoice, booking number, etc. While the customer retreated and was never heard from again, the damage was done. Unfortunately, the attention span of today’s consumer is outpaced by a flea. It seems no one is interested in the conversation any more—just what they read. And many people read the first few (false) statements and have passed judgment accordingly. As it turned out, the disgruntled customer was identified by IP address as Agency B. A slander lawsuit is pending.
When The PTA Attacks
Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague who told me about a local (to him) business who took a hit at the hands of the local elementary school PTA. While I do not know the specifics, a local business had supported the PTA for years in some manner. This year, their financial situation did not allow them to offer the same level of support. Certainly this is understandable to any business owner. Well, a clique of friends belonging to the PTA began a Facebook crusade encouraging others to NOT support this local business because they did not support the PTA. It gathered steam and understandably, the business was hurt. The PTA as an organization did not step in to stop these individuals and the damage was done.
It is just that simple. Someone, right or wrong, can easily slam your reputation on a whim. The severity of the damage is entirely dependent on the reach and influence lf the people spreading the information. Someone with 50 Facebook followers in town will not have the same impact as the local gadfly with 3,000. The good news, going back to an earlier comment, today’s consumer has the attention span of a flea. All but the most significant of this morning’s news will be forgotten by the evening.
The lesson to be learned here is that as businesses, we need to be very aware of the social implications of virtually every decision we make. We need think of the extended influence of our customers. We need to be aware of any social backlash on any new policies—like implementing fees. And perhaps more importantly, we need to have a plan of action to put in place to counter any negative social publicity. Keep in mind that the plan may be different for different situations. Some issues are best handled off-line, while others can certainly be played out on Facebook, Twitter and the forums.
Social media is here to stay and we will need to acknowledge its power. Keep an eye on you online reputation and know what people are saying about you. Create Google alerts to help you out. Understand the social reach of your customers and create your response plans accordingly.
Social media is a very sharp double-edged sword. While there are many benefits to it, there certainly are many downsides. The Susan G. Komen Foundation undoubtedly has raised millions of dollars via social media. And in one fell swoop, they likely lost a lot of it due to social media. With a little proactive work on your part, the chances of becoming the next Susan G. Komen Foundation will be minimized.