Pitfalls of social media marketing
By Aaron Weinman
Social media is online marketing gold, but what happens when companies lose control of their virtual stores? AARON WEINMAN reports
Some days it feels like Facebook is everywhere, which is probably because it is. With over 600 million users, the largest of the social media websites is never offline, has a constant procession of traffic and charges zero rent. Sounds like a great place for a store, right? Businesses all over the world think so.
Increasingly businesses view Facebook, and the sea of competing social media websites that also include instant messaging service Twitter and the significantly more-corporate LinkedIn, as the ideal way to not only interact with an audience, but also greatly expand customer reach.
Here, in social-media land, they can promote products and services, gauge public opinion on new stock, make administrative announcements or simply connect with their target demographic immediately and cheaply.
But there's a flipside: in this 24/7 marketplace, consumers are also provided with an outlet to voice their opinions, which are laid bare for all to read and which often occur inside a business' own space, meaning that a slew of negative comments can quickly and effectively damage the goodwill that businesses are using social media to establish.
A recent social media debacle occurred when fashion jeweller Diva released its line of Playboy-branded jewellery. The 185-store retailer incurred the wrath of irate parents, staunch women’s rights activists and children’s advocacy groups, with the angry mob using Diva's own Facebook page to publish its collective vitriol.
Comments from dissatisfied Diva devotees ranged from requests for the retailer to remove the range of controversial Playboy stock to calls for a brand boycott.
The magnitude of the verbal stoush intensified over several weeks as Diva’s Facebook page deteriorated into a sledging match.
Personal insults and expletive-riddled language were plastered across the "wall" like graffiti and Diva was forced to dedicate untold amounts of time and money into deleting the posts it deemed inappropriate. The intensity of the anti-Diva campaign may have been unusual, but is a poignant reminder of what can happen when a brand invites over 92,000 followers into its digital space.
It's one thing to have to weather a proportionately small number of complaints about Playboy jewellery that claimed Diva was supporting explicit, "pornographic" attire for teenagers, but another matter entirely for the protest to be happening entirely within Diva's virtual store, and in full view of Diva's entire online database.
Despite the marketing potential that exists in social media platforms, the "Diva debacle" provides businesses with a timely wake-up call concerning the power of social media – companies are now wide open to unprecedented public criticism.
The closer a business can get to its target market, the better its relationships with those markets can be. Social media platforms allow businesses to have open dialogue with customers, ask questions, and collate feedback, all in a collective effort to benefit the customer and the potential brand.
Traditional media limits the ability for two-way engagement between a business and a customer, so businesses that choose to go online can conversely create a social media community revolving around their growing brand.
Social media and marketing specialist Barry Urquhart, director of Marketing Focus, said social networking allows consumers to share information with ease, effectively taking control away from the company subjected to criticism.
"Businesses have less control over these matters, and social media has enabled people to publically vent emotional sentiment," Urquhart said. "It has essentially re-written the book on public relations."
Because social media forums opens businesses up to public scrutiny, it’s important that companies regularly monitor and manage these mediums. Social media experts emphasise the importance of keeping platforms such as Facebook and Twitter current with company news and frequent interaction with its follower base. Cat Matson, business analyst at Alito Business Ignition believe that engaging with consumers is paramount in order to achieve online marketing success.
"I encourage businesses who are using social media to engage and respond in a timely manner," Matso says. "Where there are a large amount of fans that makes it unsustainable to respond to every comment, I suggest businesses regularly thank everyone who has contributed."
Promoting free speech and endorsing opinions via social media platforms can help businesses interact with their demographic, but it’s equally important for businesses to regulate the posts of their followers. Although representatives of Diva began moderating the social media forum by removing expletive-riddled comments, the company did appear to let many comments go. It wasn’t until personal insults began to surface that Diva made its move.
"We are not OK with personal attacks or anti-social behaviour," reads a post from the company on its own page, "so we will be deleting any posts that are considered this. Feel free to post a cleaner version as we are happy for you to have your say."
Not only were its responses minimal, but Diva also failed to address the many concerns about its controversial jewellery line, instead preferring to post a rousing tribute to the Australian Rugby Union team.
"Diva is feeling the sunshine and warm weather. Looking forward to watching the Aussies take on South Africa in the World Cup, GO WALLABIES!!"
Lara Solomon, director at social marketing firm, LaRoo believes Diva’s reluctance to reply to many of its followers could have caused irreparable damage to its brand. "People feel unanswered – that's why they keep posting, so they hopefully get a response from Diva," Solomon says. "Social media keeps businesses honest so no one can hide anymore."
Matson mirrored the view that Diva’s lack of interaction was potentially damaging to its reputation, urging businesses to respond immediately if similar situations were to occur.
"I suspect one of the things that has fuelled the heat in the Facebook discussions is that Diva seems to be largely absent from the conversation," Matson says. "The audience is feeling un-heard, which in today’s world equates to disrespect."
Simon Dell, director at marketing specialists, TwoCents Group agrees that Diva could have conducted this situation to better effect, suggesting businesses the size of Diva should have an emergency plan in place.
"The sooner you jump on issues like the Diva problem and address them at the source, the better," Dell explains. "There is never any harm in saying ‘we made a mistake’ – lots of companies have done that and found a simple apology rectifies the problem."
Dell added that, while Diva may not have responded regularly, the retailer may have placed itself in a unique situation where it has gained the approval of the teenage consumer market – its targeted demographic.
"They were taking a calculated risk that the long term damage to the brand would be minimal and that, in fact, they would actually gain some ‘street cred’ from the younger market," Dell said. "That marketplace could easily identify with a brand that rails against the establishment (Playboy)."
Dell understands that Facebook demographics revolve around Generation Y and Z and Diva has done something just as rebellious as its target market through its social media platforms.
"Effectively Diva is being rebellious and anti-establishment, in exact alignment with its target customer," Dell says. "You might be angered by what they’re selling, but this could be considered brilliant marketing."
Matson agrees that Diva’s stance on its controversial line ties in with its target market. But while Diva has garnered much notoriety and marketing attention, Matson questions whether the retailer could lose a significant portion of consumers.
"They used to say ‘any publicity is good publicity,’ and Diva has certainly got a lot of marketing attention," Matson added. "Is that at the expense of other customers and other lines?"
Not all the online publicity Diva garnered was negative, however. As mentioned above by Dell, many young teenagers moved to defend Diva’s Playboy-branded jewellery and its apparent silence on the issue. Jelena Marjanovic, a supportive Facebook fan posted the following: "Diva love the jewellery, good for you for not responding to all the negative comments."
Another pro-Diva fan believes the retailer was being treated harshly and said that the company’s decision to continue selling Playboy-branded products was in the best interests of its business.
"Diva is a business, providing a product to a market that demands it," Roberts said on the company's Facebook page. "This market is NOT for children. This market is older for 18-30 year olds. In fact, Diva figures reflect this is the market predominantly shopping at their store."
Social media has optimised the scope that businesses and consumers have in today’s marketplace and is one of many examples of how technology determines the success of modern-day business; however, just as technology evolves, business owners need to evolve with it in order to ensure continued success in the future.
Posted December 01, 2011