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Prepare for Branding Muffs and the Social Network Bandwagon

branding

by Kenneth Rudich

When people feel wronged by a brand they often want the world to know about it.  And now, thanks to social networking, they can do just that.

As a result, a single, isolated instance of incompetence can quickly spiral into a painful recitation of performance history problems and/or a spate of spiteful comments.  What’s worse is that it all gets laid bare on a social network viewed by as many as, well, possibly millions.

Welcome to the dark underbelly of social media marketing, a place where like-minded people converge on social media platforms for no other purpose than to vent.  It’s called the Bandwagon Effect — or as Behavioral Science calls it, Groupthink.  We’ve also characterized it as the Multiplier Effect to describe how quickly it can spiral out of control.

Regardless of what you call it, your business must be prepared in advance for dealing with this potential scenario — insofar it can happen to anyone at any time.  And beware, because the margin for error that ignites it can be incredibly small, while the consequences can be anywhere from harmful to unfair to devastating.

Branding Bloopers Unveiled

Take, for example, a recent incident involving Best Buy.

According to a report by HLNtv.com (with CNN.com also providing a link to it), some online customers received emails from the brand just days before Christmas to let them know their orders had been canceled and would not be shipped as promised.  The problem was apparently due to a lack of inventory for some of the hotter items requested since the Black Monday shopping spree began.  Less than 1% of online customers were affected, which meant 99+% had reason to believe they would be treated to a fulfillment experience.

And yet, hardly any time passed before the reader comments at the end of the article grew to 61 in number; and not only were the majority of them unflattering, they were diverse in scope and nature.

For instance, one decried their seasonal advertising (and others were quick to join in agreement).  Another declared, “Screw Best Buy,” after accusing them of bringing down Circuit City.  That same individual then spoke glowingly about a competitor.  Still another let everyone know her online order from Best Buy was shipped to the wrong address – with further complications ensuing while trying to get it straightened out.

The point is: one seemingly small and somewhat confined mistake affecting less than 1% of online customers, which may well have been beyond Best Buy’s control, got amplified to a considerably larger degree because others chimed in with their own personal reasons to vent about the brand.  To make matters worse, several took to promoting other retailers that consumers might want to try instead.  And that was just the short term effect.  Who knows what might yet linger ahead?

Papa John’s Pizza recently got caught in a similar tailwind.

The furor over a New York franchisee employee who typed a racial slur onto a receipt garnered all kinds of negative attention for the brand on Twitter and other network platforms.

One of the more damaging tweets, however, questioned why someone who lives in New York would go to Papa John’s in the first place.  The implication was clear, and it upped the ante from an isolated incident of bad service at a franchisee to a criticism of the core product that uses the tag line: Better Ingredients.  Better pizza.

The Small Business Exemption Myth

And don’t try to take solace in thinking you’re exempt because you’re a small, low profile business.

Have you ever heard of Google Places, where people rate and share places on Google?  Do you proactively monitor what people are saying about your business on it and other social networking sites? 

Are you prepared to respond to real customer reviews like: “(Name deleted) had been one of our favorite places to wind down during the work week – great atmosphere, good food/prices and a friendly staff.  All of that changed tonight….(bad review followed)”     Review Has Been Read: 351 times

Or: “First time visit with my wife. We both ordered the fish and chips sandwiches.  Side dishes were acceptable, but the fish chips were terrible, full of thick crusty batter, and four pieces about the size of a man’s thumb.  It was all batter and hardly any fish….very disappointed, but willing to make allowance for “new kid on the block restaurant,” but only if management takes corrective action, which they didn’t express an interest in checking it out for themselves the day of our visit…”  Review Has Been Read: 298 times 

Social Media Brand Management

It’s a fact of life in this modern era of brand management: social networking allows for small miscues to become quickly inflamed and grow exponentially worse.  If three or four hundred people read a bad review about your small business, imagine the impact — especially if you haven’t had a chance (or haven’t bothered) to respond in a manner that seeks to make it right. 

Truth be told, you’re well-advised to get involved in social media marketing even if it only means you’ve got a plan of action for monitoring what’s being said online about your business; and for responding, with all due diplomacy, to criticisms and complaints.

By showing you care and are truly concerned about the customer, you can minimize — if not eliminate – the ill-effects of a bad review.

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