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How your brand can fall prey to online communities

July 19, 2011

One customer.  One bad experience.

That’s all it takes for online communities to sink their teeth into your brand. Consider this:

Guy Kawasaki is a popular venture capitalist with a huge social network following.  On Sunday he grumbled on the Google Plus network about an ugly experience he had that night at a hotel in Santa Barbara.  Within minutes, many of Kawasaki’s 12,000 Google Plus followers were demanding to know the hotel’s name so that it could be “held accountable” for its poor customer service.  Here’s a sample:


But Kawasaki didn’t out the hotel.  Here’s how he responded:

“I didn’t name the hotel on purpose. I figure that the person who did it just wasn’t thinking clearly. No need to bury a hotel’s or employee’s reputation for one act of stupidity.”

To his credit, Kawasaki recognizes his considerable influence and the damage he could do to an entire business with one negative comment online.

But not all thought leaders are this charitable.  Dell, Domino’s Pizza, and Nestle are just a few of the brands whose reputations have been threatened by critics online.  In fact, Dell dramatically reformed its customer service practices based on the work of one ticked off customer who became a watchdog blogger.

The lesson: A company’s margin for error gets smaller as citizen journalism gets bigger.  Any stakeholder – from the unassuming customer to the celebrity venture capitalist — can tell the world about your business practices through free social networking technology…and they don’t need your permission to do it.

Some solutions:

First, enforce your customer service and quality control practices.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of rapid response cure.

Second, utilize online monitoring platforms, either free (Google Alerts, HootSuite, Tweetdeck) or at a price (Viral Heat, Radian 6). They’ll serve as an early warning system for any online threats to your brand’s reputation.

Lastly, have a plan to quarantine online threats before they leak in to mainstream media.  Traditional reporters love stories about corporate crises that originate on social media platforms. Don’t be their next subject.

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