As social media becomes ever more popular with all age groups, it gives a new and powerful voice to consumers. So it becomes more important than ever for brands, and those managing brands, to keep a close watch on what's being said.
Before five or six years ago, it was hard for a dissatisfied customer to tell others beyond his personal circle of friends about his beef. Most publications were loathe to print letters to the editor from a consumer complaining about a product or service -- especially if it was one advertised in that book. Some local TV stations had - and still have - consumer reporters who help cut through red tape to solve customer complaints. But how many people with complaints can actually be selected for a feature that runs a few times a week?
But look at how people can now voice their product or service complaints. Online publications and marketplaces, including giants like Amazon.com and a host of travel sites, now include comments and reviews from real customers. Say you're looking to book a room at a resort you've never been to. Unless you're working through the dying breed of travel agents, you most likely are going to an online site to get info and even book the room. But if you spot, right below all the pertinent information, some negative comments by people who recently stayed there, you very well might take a "pass" on that place and keep searching elsewhere.
Negative reviews and comments by everyday people have become a powerful un-convincer. Companies that have spent thousands -- or often millions -- to convince you to consider their product and buy it, can have the deal blown literally at the finish line by one or two negative comments.
A recent study, the 2011 Online Influence Trend Tracker, shows that a whopping 80 percent of buyers have changed their mind about a purchase after seeing a negative review online. That's up from 67 percent only a year ago.
The flip side is that positive online comments have convinced 87 percent of shoppers to move ahead with a planned purchase.
So what does this mean for marketers and for those who handle their public relations and customer relations?
More than ever, brands cannot stick their head in the sand and ignore what's being said about them. It's crucial that brands constantly monitor not only major media, but social media and, if you sell online, e-commerce sites as well. Watch for consumers complaining of problems and try to respond, hopefully with a fix or a meaningful explanation and apology. Others will see that there's a dialogue between customer and company and it can be reassuring to know the company is trying to do the right thing and taking consumer comments to heart.
A caution: Avoid trying to deal with complainers who come off as overly hostile or nasty. One client we worked with, a GPS navigation app developer, had someone who we suspect was a disgruntled former employee who wrote nasty curse-laden comments everywhere he could find a spot to post a comment. He never responded to our attempts to chat, and we saw that other readers were not taking his comments seriously because of their nastiness, wording and frequency. Our attempts to reach out to legitimate complainers, though, were almost always met with appreciation, and these efforts turned some complainers into new advocates for the brand.
The key lesson here is to listen and respond appropriately.