My last column discussed how a company could use Facebook to its advantage by doing background research there on both current and prospective employees. Now I will talk about the seedier side of this social media site - and I am not talking about those spam messages/friends requests that could make Larry Flynt blush.
No, I am talking about unsatisfied customers taking to Facebook and starting pages that disparage your company. Exhibit A for this activity is the Facebook page “Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing.” As the story goes, Justin Kurtz, a 21-year-old Western Michigan University student, had his car towed away from his apartment building’s parking lot. The towing company says he did not have a parking permit, Kurtz claims they pulled the sticker off his window. It does not matter who is telling the truth, what matters is the towing company did not give the “customer” satisfactory service when he called to complain, and they now have a public relations nightmare on their hands.
The angry Facebook page got 800 members within two days of creation, and with some national media bringing the story to the people, the group stands at almost 14,000 members as I write this column. Could you imagine if you had 14,000 people proclaiming they dislike your business? I have not experienced rejection like that since I was a single college student.
Now, I am guessing that your business is much more upstanding than the folks at T&J Towing. They seem to have done everything wrong in this situation. Despite having an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau due to more than 20 complaints in the last few years, they decided to poke the bear. Instead of reaching out to the student to end this nightmare, they are suing Kurtz for a “libelous and slanderous” site to the tune of $750,000. Not a good call to attack the sympathetic figure. Perhaps their next public relations plan will consist of kicking dogs, taking candy from children, and slapping nuns.
In fairness, there is also a Facebook group called “Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing Haters.” Number of members in that group? That would be one. Not sure if it is T or J.
HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND?
Obviously, you do not need to be a shady company in order for people to be dissatisfied with your work. I am sure you have all had customers who were impossible to please. It has been my experience that those people tend to have the biggest mouths. But what was once a conversation about you with their neighbors - who hopefully would be rolling their eyes - has now become a conversation with the world.
How do you combat this “perk” of technology? My first piece of advice would be to get a Google alert on your company. That way, you know who is talking about your company and at the very least you will not be blindsided by the information.
Now you don’t need to go around responding to every Facebook status update or Tweet about your company. This is called “picking your battles,” especially for you larger contractors.
When you have picked your battle, make sure you don’t go “covert” and try to respond on these social networking sites by posing as a customer who loves your company. Be honest, identify yourself, and explain your side of the story. These techie people are way too smart, and your identity will be exposed faster than a Russian spy in New York.
Finally, make sure you realize that all communication is “on the record.” It does not matter if it is on Twitter, a personal e-mail; or a voicemail; any communication you have with these individuals can be posted for the world to see. Ask Alec Baldwin how leaving a voicemail can work out.
Social media has made this a consumer’s world that we are all playing in. Now get online and type your company name followed by the word “complaint.” Good luck. Publication date: