Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

Summary: Social media has made it easy for the rational customers to help brands improve their products and services but has also helped enable the irrational customers expand their own reach.


A thoughtful post by Shonali Burke addresses the plague of corporate knee-jerk syndrome where the use of social media may have unearthed a plague of reactionary response culture within companies and their customers.

Shonali says:

"Social lets us rave immediately. Rant immediately. Diss someone immediately. Ravage a blog post immediately. With all this immediacy at our fingertips, are we losing the art of reflection? Are we losing the ability—or the desire—to think? Used to be, when we didn’t feel the need—or have the ability—to respond immediately to something, we (or, at least, most mature adults) would take the time to absorb the messages we were receiving."

For brands, I agree that unless a layer of thoughtful leadership is in place within an organization making sure the company DOES stay reflective and methodical about their responses, social media responders could feel overwhelmed and companies can start to feel like they more time chasing conversations and less time improving and driving business.

A lot of companies get blamed for contributing to their own hype-machine when using social for marketing and PR purposes. Customers love to jump at the first chance at a screen shot of a company's tweet, a Facebook post or a blog excerpt feeling like they've busted a brand online like a collective Sherlock Holmes with too much time on their hands.

The dissolution of customer accountability

We know and appreciate the value of corporate accountability through social. We love it. We embrace it. We, the people, can now enforce it. I'm down with that. While corporate accountability through social media is key to driving better quality products and services, this doesn't negate the fact that customers should take some responsibility for their own behavior.

The downside to social media for companies is the anonymity, speed and shear volume of distorted and skewed conversations, comments, and responses pouring in every day. This makes it incredibly easy for people to have their emotions whipped up into a frenzy. I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone distort a headline on Digg or in a tweet tailored to their frustrations so that it gets retweeted all "Lord of The Flies"-like. In resources and man hours, thousands of dollars are spent pacifying the most irrational of customers. When those types of customers are tweeting away, misery loves company. Social media makes it easy for customers to start a hasty misinformed brushfire without being punished for arson so they exploit it.

Call to arms, customers vs customers

On a more positive note, I have also seen many customers jump in and defend brands. Remember that if you as a brand are effective at taking care of your customers when something goes wrong, you are investing in your own army. Social media is not just an opportunity to get people to buy or to draw in new marketing and sales opportunities. The time is now to go the extra mile for your customers whenever possible. This will reduce the opportunities for a PR nightmare that in most cases could've been avoided if fighting for positive public perception was made a higher priority. If you can do this right, you won't have to work as hard when something goes wrong because your more reasonable customers will back you up.

Is the availability of social media to blame for consumer misbehavior? In this day and age, is the customer always right? Are most companies doing enough outside of social media and policy-wise to go the extra distance when a customer has a problem?

[image source]

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • I am shocked. I say shocked.

    Do you mean to tell me that people are using these here social medias to rant and rave and badmouth companies and products? What happened to doing it on AOL? Doesn't anybody post rotten reviews on Amazon and Newegg anymore?
    Robert Hahn
    • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

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  • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

    Rich, I very much appreciate you citing my post to start this piece. Since I said what I had to say (for the moment, at least, on the topic), for now, I just want to say "thank you!"
  • Please learn elementary grammar

    The word "media" is plural. So the headline should be "Are social media perpetuating consumer panic ...."
    • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

      @bmeacham98@... - "Social Media" in this context is being used as a singular noun....but thanks for taking the time to read. :-)
      Rich Harris
      • I know

        @Rich Harris
        I know it is used as a singular noun. But it's plural.
    • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?


      bmeacham98@... is correct.
      Medium is, media are. Always. The situation here is quite different from using the word "government" with "are".
  • Customer accountability?

    I wasn't aware that a customer was accountable to a company simply for buying a product, notwithstanding the current crop of EULAs that bind customers into commercial serfdom.

    However all people have a responsibility not to defame or slander others, irrespective of being a customer or not. It's one thing to stand up and say "I don't like XYZ" but another to say something like "XYZ poisons babies" if there's no factual basis for the statement.

    There is nothing that prevents company reps from taking the high road and responding in a simple manner if factual misstatements or anonymous attacks are made. What I really deplore is censorship or shilling. "Reputation management" has sprung up as big business and regrettably relies mainly on censorship and shilling as their counterattacks to any criticism, even if it is warranted.
    terry flores
    • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

      @terry flores - Thanks for posting. Of course customers are not accountable per se to a company because they chose to invest in their products/services, however I do believe that customers, if participating in an online community should try to remain valuable to that community focusing more on truth, rather than slander for the sake of you said... There are ethical and unethical ways to deal with reputation management. Unfortunately the unethical version is in fact on the rise in big businesses...
      Rich Harris
  • No...

    ...peoples' incompetence and stupidity are.
    • Now, now


      Brand owners count on a certain "lack of facilities" among consumers in the first place. How else can you triple the price of a simple T-shirt by turning it into a walking advertisement for A&F, and people will snap it up?
      terry flores
  • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

    First, let me thank you for this article. This very thought has been swimming around in my head for quite some time...I have been reflecting. There are a few aspects to this "phenomena". 1) People are generally displeased with anything that represents authority (primarily the U.S. Govt) which many of these major brands are strongly bonded with. So to the irrational knee jerk blogger, these companies make easy targets because nestled in the back of many peoples minds is the picture of the big business/U.S. govt machine. I don't have to specify why this association is bad... at least I do not think I have to. Now, while I agree that this should not effect some brands, it seems that this mentality has bled into anything involving large corporations.
    2) That being said, for most of these large corporations, it should not be an issue putting up some cash and re training their employees in the area of customer service and public relations. There was a post I read which I wish I could remember, but the point of it was with social media, companies no matter how big, have to put the customer first or at least make them feel like they are first.
    3)There will always be those few that can not resist causing a stir, but like any other stir, if there is no real fact behind it, it will go away.
    The final Part of this equation is a bit Utopian I admit... but if these companies would back away from the Govt, they might also have a better chance. At this point, being associated with the U.S. govt is a bit like keeping Charlie Sheen around for the company... causes more harm than good. Just my 2 cents.
  • the poor helpless corporations..

    Oh yes, since corporations are so poor and helpless, everything must be done to protect their public image. No matter that they ruin people's lives with illegal and immoral acts and get away with their crimes by throwing more lawyers than individuals can afford at any case made against them. No matter that they're disingenuously invading social networks, which are made for people, as if corporations embody the legal personhood that the state insanely still allows. Yes, the concerns people have about a company's products or services should always be positive and should never be alarming one another about real or suspected hazards.. because semi-anonymous social site commenters are so very powerful when compared to multi-national multi-million dollar corporations...

    My level of disgust with Harris' article is nearly palpable.
    • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

      @Hobyx - Thanks for taking the time to post....this isn't intended to defend the "poor helpless corporations" only point, having been both the pissed off customer AND the person smoothing out the PR nightmare, is that if a customer has a valid complaint, whipping up an overly sensational version of the complaint doesn't do the community or the company with the problems, any good. In fact those types make it harder for the rest of the customers to get their valid complaint addressed above all the noise.
      Rich Harris
  • Join the conversation to drive business

    Sorry, but this line got me: " media responders could feel overwhelmed and companies can start to feel like they spend more time chasing conversations and less time improving and driving business." It shows a lack of understanding on how marketing and PR have changed over the past five years. Truth is, being involved in customer conversations *does* improve and drive business. The fact consumers are ranting against your company isn't new; the fact your company now can participate in the discussion is. I *want* to know who and where my brand is being bashed, so I can engage and steer the most vocal participants -- not just shove information and brand messages down their throats.
    • RE: Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

      @StanJohnston - Thanks for your post. It's a two-way street. Companies now have a responsibility to participate in the conversations AND use those to drive and acknowledge improvements in their business. Customers also should try to provide useful feedback, even if negative, to help the company genuinely improve the situation. All I'm acknowledging in this article is that when one angry person of the not-so-rational type blows your company up on Twitter, no matter how well, honest and forthcoming you've tried to handle it publicly, it's difficult resource-wise sometimes to manage.
      Rich Harris
  • Grammar Police Are Annoying

    "Media" as a Latin word is plural. We speak an evolving language called "English". In that language, "media" can be singular. For the same reason, "data" is, not are. If you want to use Latin words, put them in italics. Or, just keep whining and pretending you are the ultimate authorities on language.
  • Shilling is the big worry all over the place.

    Think about this, the internet has created an easy way to complain and rant about things that really get you angry or leave you feeling ripped off, unsatisfied, or taken advantage of. And that of course is a good thing for the most part. But as all to often is the case, whenever something good seems to be appearing out of the blue, it frequently comes on a coin that has two sides, and its often the second side of the coin that isn't too pretty.<br><br>In this case the second side of the coin is the phenomenon known as shilling. And its a double whammy of a problem. First off, problem one arises out of the same circumstance that because its now so easy to comment and complain, its every bit as easy for someone or some company to shill their reputation into respectability. <br><br>And thats not a good thing. After all, wheres the advantage to being able to complain about a product for example if its no sweat for someone to put up 10 positive but undeserved "shill" commentaries to counter the complaint as opposed to actually doing something about it.<br><br>The second whammy is a problem that comes out of the problem of free and easy shilling and is often a far more frustrating problem then any. That is; when you have a situation where someone is legitimately countering a complaint with a positive story, or perhaps a reasonable explanation about a problem and they get SHOUTED down as a shill because so many immediately understand that making shill commentary is now as easy as it gets.<br><br>I have seen this many times over the last few years where someone says, "I don't understand where this problem of your comes from, I have seen no such issues" and the cry of "shill" is suddenly sounded and from that point on, who knows who is speaking the truth. Its maddening. Its even more maddening when it happens to you personally because its almost impossible to defend against the shill moniker in many cases.<br><br>Its not so bad when you provide links to your info, or if you are lucky enough to be able to rely on your previous reputation, but when your just joe blow saying "my steering wheel never fell off in my hands when I owned vehicle X for 10 years", and someone shouts "shill!", where does joe blow go then to prove he isn't a shill? It can be tough.<br><br>And it can really make a mess of a good debate about a product. If joe blow has information that levels the playing field a bit, thats good, but if joe blow is called out as a shill, (particularly bad if he isn't) then you have to wonder and that means whatever he brought to the table isn't worth squat in terms of the discussion at hand.<br><br>So once again, we had a great new thing in our lives, in this case to broaden relevant debate in our lives with ease, but as always seems to be the case, too many out there have seen the potential to take unfair advantage and as such we often are not left with much to be happy about after they have turned the whole process into an unreliable mess.
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