Is social media perpetuating consumer panic and chaos against brands?

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?

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