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The Unintended Consequences of Social Media Part 1

Art Hall

The impact and opportunities of social media for companies is undeniable. Social media can be integrated as part of a company’s channel strategy, specifically the call center strategy, to promote and sell products, brand promotion and even customer service at a relatively low cost. Many companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and Comcast have pioneered the way for other companies looking to jump into the social media customer service fray with proven use cases and tangible results. As a result, companies that were once on the peripheral of social media are now jumping in with both feet.
While there are promising benefits to companies seeking to integrate social media as a corporate function, executives need to understand the truths of social media in order to avoid the unintended consequences that are inherent in its use. One of the first truths about social media is the ability to enable conversations among targeted audience or market. Executives within marketing are meticulous with the management and protection of their brand and developing a brand promise that will resonate with their target audience or market. This management involves a command-and-control structure, coordinated across several lines of business. The challenge with social media is that companies do not control conversations about the brand; the audience or market does. This truth may come as a shock to most companies especially those that have held on to traditional views of establishing and maintaining control.

Social Media Needs to Be Part of the Pie

Take, for example, Domino’s Pizza. The Domino’s recipe has gone through a makeover. The move, says Domino’s Chief Marketing Officer, Russell Weiner, reflects "what customers are looking for. We’re not talking about a slightly altered version of our previous pizza. It’s a completely new pizza from the crust up, and we are proud of it. We spent the last 18 months reinventing the brand in anticipation of our 50th anniversary."

Domino’s decision to makeover their recipe is a strong indication of how competitive the pizza market is. According to Bloomberg, Domino’s has experienced "six straight quarters of declining revenue despite being the leader in pizza delivery. In the previous 18 months, time and effort was spent not only in refining the pizza recipe but also in the way Domino’s would go to market with their new messaging." While not a regular Domino’s customer, their commercials are prompting me to give them a try. There is a natural "curiosity" their messaging has piqued in the minds of consumers with the intended consequence of improving top line revenue growth, acquisition and win-back.

During the time Domino’s was busy reinventing their recipe, two Domino pizza employees posted a video of themselves on YouTube defacing a pizza. The video had a viral effect receiving 250,000 views overnight. Talk about reputation damage. Domino’s did the right thing by responding with a video of its own, but the company waited 24 hours before doing so. A 24-hour response time hardly cuts the muster with customers who sent an e-mail to a company and awaiting a response; in the digital world where online conversations are much more viral, 24 hours is slow and often unacceptable.

The unintended consequence of Domino’s slow response may have resulted in turning away the target customer and audience they intended to attract with their recipe makeover. Instead of creating anticipation about the new taste and judging to discover if the new recipe is better than the old, now customers may be wondering "is this slice of pizza I am about to put in my mouth sanitarily safe?" I know I would be thinking it.

For companies that are looking to implement social media into their call center and marketing campaign, how can the unintended consequences and inherent risks be better managed?

Risk Analysis Should be Given Equal Attention To Mitigate the Unintended Consequences of Social Media

As a company’s call center or marketing team develops their social media go-to-market strategy, consideration for a risk analysis should be given equal amount of attention as a way to mitigate the unintended consequences of social media. A Social Media Risk Assessment (SMRA) should evaluate the marketing and call center risk components like strategy, organizational readiness, regulatory compliance (for highly regulated companies like financial services and pharmaceuticals) reputation and technology.

The SMRA should be thorough and constructed to help executives answer the following customer questions prior to the execution of their social media go-to-market initiatives like:

1. Strategy–Did the call center and marketing team conduct a thorough listening exercise to understand the current social sentiment towards our brand? Is our planned social media strategy properly aligned with our listening conversational marketing and call center data?

2. Organizational Readiness–Has enough marketing and call center executive buy-in been vetted and socialized in our organization? Are executives participating in social media? Have we developed our social computing policies and cascaded this policy throughout our organization?

3. Regulatory Compliance–
Are procedures established to safeguard customers’ non-public information? Is there a process to ensure adherence to technical advertising requirements in the call center and marketing department?

4. Reputation–Who in the call center or marketing department is authorized to respond on the company’s behalf to customer conversations occurring in social media outlets? What is the maximum allowable timeframe to respond to negative conversations/online postings? Are call center representatives and marketers aware of their behavior in social media?

5. Technology–Have we invested in the right security and anti-virus software to protect our company’s call center and marketing department from social engineering attacks and other IT related threats related to our social media presence?

Due to the viral nature of social media, unintended consequences will occur. It is better for companies to have a proactive marketing and call center plan to address issues as they arise and mitigate potential unintended consequences instead of being surprised by them.