As easy as it seems, being relevant, friendly and professional on social media in any given situation is an art form. In one of my earliest internships I remember a storm brewing on a brand’s Facebook page as two die hard fanboys argued over the celebrity ambassador we used at the time. It was 2011 and the etiquette surrounding this was less defined than it is now. The PR team chose to delete the heated exchange, which led to a huge backlash. They were eventually criticised by Facebook users of censorship and limiting their freedom of speech, but obviously it would be bad press to leave it there for all to see. It’s a hard medium to navigate around, but there are obviously things to avoid.
Sainsbury’s Antisocial Blunder
The point of engaging with your audience is to see what drives them towards the brand, rather than alienating them from it. A recent example is the response to Sainsbury’s “50p Challenge” internal sales strategy, which was accidentally stuck on a shop window and posted on Twitter. Despite the quick response, it was cold and unhelpful. Even though damage control is obviously important, this response was too abrupt to suit its purpose. I genuinely think that if the tone was warmer and Sainsbury’s had apologised for their error, things would have been a lot smoother.
How to Stop Making Things Worse
Unfortunately for brands online, they may experience a backlash. The best way of dealing with the situation is to keep your cool and be sympathetic to the online responses. Most people want to see a human side on social media as a robotic, sales heavy timeline is not very appealing. Ideally, the key is making your followers feel valued and listening to any concerns they may have. Let’s just say that Sainsbury’s didn’t follow this guideline in their replies. At this point, the picture had gone viral and been given its own hashtag #50pChallenge. You can see how the representative was trying to resolve the situation but managed to sound like he was telling off a small child. He could have even done better by answering the question – as consumers, we are no stranger to upselling. As Chris summed up in this Telegraph piece, “As a customer, I don’t want to feel like I’m being forced or tricked into spending extra by staff who have been challenged to make me do so. Had the poster encouraged better customer service, or more effective promotions, I doubt there would have been this kind of reaction.” The level of engagement shown by Sainsbury’s here sets a divide between them and potential customers to the point where people are turning away from the brand.
Other Brands Will Take Advantage
Another downfall of Sainsbury’s error is that other brands immediately capitalised on it. Even though everyone wants extra sales through the till, the opportunity to grow your customer base means that your competitors will throw you under the bus. Other retailers were praised in customers’ tweets, whilst Lidl actually offered to get their customers to spend 50p less.
Instead of frantically trying to stop a viral discussion, the best way forward is to take part in the conversation, directing it towards something more positive. This could be a charity donation, recommending good deals or even just praising your staff for delivering good customer service. Being detached or unnecessarily harsh on social media always reflects badly on your brand – people always respond better to a story or a message they can get behind.