By Jenny Dillon – The Daily Telegraph
MANY business people have already recognised the power of social media and are poised to exploit it commercially at every opportunity.
One may have a new summer line of swimwear, another a fresh menu from the restaurant kitchen, another has a sudden shipment of Asian artefacts, another is offering Mother’s Day discounts on facials and manicures.
With just a quick Twitter, these businesses can let all their followers know about the deals and get business pumping again.
But businesses that didn’t monitor the various social media out there now – Twitter, SMS, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, blogs – could find themselves in enormous trouble because of the rapid, or viral, way the message is spread.
In fact, some could find themselves out of business within a month, according to David Eldridge, the chief executive of UK-based global marketing and analytics company Alterian.
“Social media has exploded and this means that the information people use to make buying decisions has changed,” he said.
“It’s not just what businesses put out there but also what people say in response.
“Feedback is instantaneous and if that feedback is bad then reputations and credentials can be damaged in minutes.”
Mr Eldridge cited two recent examples of how the use of YouTube brought undone two powerful US organisations.
The most famous was a YouTube video made in jest by two Dominos Pizza staff who performed gross acts in the kitchen while preparing takeaways.
The food never made it to customers, but the video reached millions while Dominos reacted with all the corporate zeal of a stuffed mammoth.
While eventually the pranksters were sacked and faced felony charges, Dominos’ reputation was trashed because of its inertia.
Ignoring a legitimate complaint about damaged baggage brought United Airways undone.
Early last year, musician Dave Carroll stopped off in Chicago on his way to a gig and saw the case containing his $2300 guitar being manhandled by the baggage handlers.
United chose to ignore his claim for $1200 worth of damage, until several months later when he wrote the song United Breaks Guitars and posted it on YouTube.
As one commentator said: “Revenge is a dish best served with country accompaniment.”
“The first thing that businesses have to understand is that they’re not the ones with sole control of their brand, because customers now talk about their experiences to a wider audience,” Mr Eldridge said.
Not only did businesses need to respond quickly to what was being said, but they also needed to be careful about how they responded, he said.
It meant listening to what was being said about them, and what was being said about competitors.
“Fix customers’ services issues, change marketing messages if they don’t resonate,” he said.
It also meant learning to interact with — and not interrupt — customers and clients.
“If you do a search of the world’s top 20 brands, you will see that 25 per cent of the entries are user comments,” Mr Eldridge said.
Further, buyers prefer these comments over the information the businesses put out, he said.
“Fourteen per cent of people trust advertisements, but 90 per cent trust peer recommendations. It’s important to put the brand image out there, but it’s equally important to monitor what’s being said,” Mr Eldridge said.