Is Social Media's Anonymity Creating Bad Customers?

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A recent article “Social Media is Creating Bad Customers” is suggesting reasons why social media may be bad for businesses. The thinking is that social media is creating “bad customers” which in turn causes more problems for businesses, and social media is what is driving the “bad customer” syndrome.

The author cites four “powers” that give people the ability to become “bad customers” which are taken from the article and listed below:

  1. No Guilt. There is no remorse about bullying a brand. It’s much easier to do because no one gets “hurt”.
  2. The Mob. Lots of other people are doing it. Whether they are the instigator with a real story or a troll making them up, its easy to find others who will join you.
  3. Relative Anonymity. Anonymity strips many people of fear. “No one will know if I say this” is the common feeling and easily overwhelms any feelings of restraint a person might normally have.
  4. No Accountability. Probably the most significant factor is the sheer lack of accountability in anything said in social media. Without accountability as a “natural check” on actions, you get an environment devoid of any punishment.

I completely agree with the author that these four factors do play a part in social media behavior, specifically the negative kind.  However, this is true of any online venue, and as long as it’s realized and taken for what it’s worth, it can be managed.

In message boards and forums, I’ve often times run into conversation threads were a “bad customer’ type starts commenting, typically looking to lash out or stir the pot. They are quickly identified and labeled as a “troll.” People tend to realize that this type of “bad customer” is best left ignored.

This can be the same with businesses where “bad customers” are present – people are smart enough to take certain comments with a grain of salt. Take, for instance, the bad customer type who has a grudge against a company, and spends several days replying to any post, comment, or status update with an angry, “this company is awful, no one should shop here” response. Other customers or fans will take note of this behavior and pattern, and quickly dismiss it as nothing more than a troubled user. They will be ignored and eventually get bored and stop.

Mob mentality, of the four, can probably be the most problematic when it comes to damage control. I’ve seen this on company Facebook pages when there is an issue that is relatively small in the grand scheme of things that is blown out of proportion by the mob mentality. A great example of this is an experience Domnick’s food chain had – their coupon policy was misunderstood and changes were apparently made without notifying customers, who were finding out about the changes as they were in line making purchases. As you can see from the blog post from that time, people ran with the story, as a mob does, and blew it way out of proportion.

Handling mob mentality is easier if you have a good crisis plan in place – if a company is on social media in any way, shape or form, it’s vital to have a plan in place should something go awry. Handling the issue head on is the best route, and containing the message before it goes viral is key. In the case of Dominick’s, they sat silent for longer than they should have, allowing the mob mentality to build momentum. It caused problems in the short term, but eventually they got it under control and it was resolved.

Social media isn’t bad, but there are challenges. Companies should not avoid social media because of the negatives or “what if’s.” It’s good to be aware of the factors above that can cause issue with being engaged and visible on social media, but careful planning and strategy will minimize these issues and make social media a successful means of communication.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Kathy Doering published on November 15, 2012 8:49 PM.

Is Your Customer Service Practicing Marketing? was the previous entry in this blog.

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