How to suck at social media customer service

twitter customer serviceLike it or not, customers have gotten accustomed to reaching out on social media channels when they have a comment, complaint or issue with your company.

And yet, even years after channels like Twitter, Facebook or Whatsapp have become commenplace for customer service, so many companies are still doing it wrong.

If you’re a company that REALLY does not like your customers, and your goal is to royally piss them off, here are 6 surefire ways to do that:

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Is TripAdvisor ruining travel?

Girls walking Alpaca in Cusco
Cusco, Peru, May 2017. Photo credit: Sari Stein

A couple of months ago, I was travelling in Peru. I’d just completed an absolutely magical trip to Machu Picchu, one of the world’s spectacular Great Wonders. It was a life-altering, breathtakingly beautiful, almost spiritual experience.

And the next day back in Cusco, waiting in my inbox was an email from the tour company: “Please, review us on TripAdvisor!”

Increasingly, businesses in the tourism industry live and die by their reviews. The word-of-mouth networks of yesteryear have been increasingly replaced by travellers on their smartphones, Googling a place to eat, sleep or visit in the vicinity.

Large hotel chains can survive on their global brand reputation and marketing. But for small independent restaurants, guesthouses, tour operators or guides, a “recommended by TripAdvisor” sticker on the door can mean the difference between survival and failure.

And do they ever know it.

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The internet’s long memory: Politics in the era of social media

The 2015 Canadian federal election campaign has been marred with a series of embarrassing gaffes and candidate resignations.

The most well-known example is probably #peegate, where Tory candidate Jerry Bance was caught on video urinating in a coffee cup and forced to step down in embarrassment. Another Conservative candidate, Tim Dutaud, was also forced to resign after videos surfaced of him making harassing prank calls.

But it’s not only the Tories who’ve been caught with their pants down — in the case of Bance, literally — here. All the major parties have been caught out in scandals during this campaign, with candidates being forced to step down due to Facebook posts, Twitter tweets and other offhand comments coming to light — some of which were posted years ago. From racism to sexism, from drug references to Nazi comparisons, a casual observer of this election would be forgiven for thinking that the only people running for leadership of this country are the worst of the worst of our citizens.

It begs the question: Have our political candidates gotten worse? Or has the internet’s memory simply gotten better?

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Flies in the ointment: Will fraudsters kill crowdfunding?

The IndieGoGo campaign looked fantastic. A friend had shared it on her Facebook feed last fall, and I clicked through, intrigued. It was an advance-fund crowdsource model, whereby an entrepreneur raises production capital by accepting pre-orders to ensure a minimum quantity. The product idea sounded brilliant, simple and well thought out. On video, the founder came across as smart, enthusiastic and passionate. I hit “fund” almost immediately.

A year later, and I still haven’t received my product. The founder’s Facebook page and IndieGoGo campaign site is full of similar angry complaints from other backers demanding refunds. Slow shipping, product delays, poor communication. And so on, and so forth. IndieGoGo won’t get involved — it’s not their policy to do so. There’s a chance I’ll still get the product eventually, but I’ve basically written it off at this point. I took a risk. It didn’t pay off. And I’m hardly the only one.

From Kobe Beef Jerky to the GoBe wristband, the media abounds with stories of crowdfunding fraud. Some of these projects are blatant scams, with the intent all along to defraud backers. Others fall into a bit more of a grey area, starting off with good intentions on behalf of the initiators, but turning sour when the project hits a few speedbumps. It’s enough to make everyone a little wary of crowdfunding, even — or especially — when a project sounds really, really great.

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How I learned to stop worrying and love Being The Product

You've probably heard everyone from bloggers to writers to watchdog groups decrying the fact that, when it comes to Facebook, Google or Twitter, you're not the customer, you're the product.

It's true, after all. These companies make their money by selling advertising space and by collecting and selling your personal data.  The more data they collect from you, the more money they make. Everything from your Google search history to your favourite books and movies listed on your Facebook profile is gold to companies who have figured out how to turn this into a profitable revenue model.

People have been decrying this for years. When Mark Zuckerberg declared – almost two years ago – that the age of privacy is dead, he was skewered by the media almost as badly as his movie version was in The Social Network. After all, nobody likes to feel like the product. It's demoralizing, right?

Maybe. But maybe not. There have got to be some benefits to being the product. So for my 2012 New Year's Resolution, I've decided to make peace with the whole concept. After all, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Therefore, here are my top 5 (ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek) reasons why Being The Product isn't so bad, and is actually kind of cool:

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The Shanahan videos: Lessons from the NHL on social media crisis management

Hockey season is back. And you know what that means, right? Yep, time for more what-hockey-can-teach-us-about-marketing posts. (Come on, you know you love them.)

This week, the social webs are abuzz with the series of videos being released by new NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, explaining each disciplinary decision being made. The videos, released after each controversial call, suspension or – conversely – decision not to suspend a player – explain, in a matter-of-fact tone, the reasons behind the decision.

Hockey bloggers and journalists are agog over these videos. Here’s why marketers should be paying close attention:

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5 tips for community managers

The list of job descriptions today that didn’t exist back when you were in school keeps getting longer. The job of Social Media Community Manager is one of them. Companies started up Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, YouTube channels, blogs and web forums because they were cheap and easy… only it turned out that it wasn’t so cheap or easy to manage and maintain them after all. Social media, when done right, is time-consuming. Chances are, the marketing manager or web guy already has a full plate of responsibilities, so the question arose: who’s going to be in charge of this?

Enter the Community Manager. Often, it’s someone with extra time to monitor and manage social channels. Increasingly, companies are realising that the low-paid intern is not the best person for this critical job, and are hiring professionals or self-styled experts. Some community managers are in-house full-time employees; others are freelancers who are hired on contract. The job of the Community Manager is to “engage” in social media spaces. Roughly, this translates into posting content to feeds, monitoring, replying and responding to things posted by the community members or the public at large, and keeping tabs on stats and metrics. Sometimes, though not always, community management includes customer service. Often, there’s an element of risk management or crisis management to the role, too.

If you find yourself – by design or by accident – in the Community Manager role, here are a few tips to help you make a success of it:

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Is it time to redefine ‘fair use’?

A number of years ago, I signed up to a free travel website to blog my travels. The site provided the opportunity to upload text and photos from the road, and to share links to the blogs. It was a fun way to involve my friends and family in my travels, and to chronicle and journal my experiences as I went along.

Fast forward a few years. The company has been acquired by a large parent company that is well known in the travel industry. All travel blogs have ads woven through them, and the only way to shut off the ads is to sign up for a paid premium account. Fair enough; they have to make their money somehow. The blogs themselves are restructured in a way that implies the promotion of specific hotels or locations, using text scraping from the entries. Not cool, but also somewhat understandable.

But a few weeks ago, I was rather shocked to find that my photos and blog entries had been mashed up to music and posted to YouTube as slideshows, promoting the blog site's parent company. I was never asked or even notified of this, and only found out months later when I stumbled on them in a Google search.

To be sure, I uploaded those photos and posted those blog entries myself. I did so knowing that I was posting them in a public space, and that the terms of use of the site I posted them to were vague, at best. In a strict legal defintion, there's probably nothing wrong with what this site did.

But as a marketing tactic, I rate this kind of tactic as a massive Fail.

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Is mobile “the new Prague”?

There’s a cliché in the travel community that refers to any potentially up-and-coming destination as “the new Prague”. Backpackers love to one-up each other with tales of visiting random destinations nobody has ever heard of, before they get discovered by the mainstream travellers, while they’re still cheap and cool and unspoiled and not overrun by guidebook -wielding types and evil tour groups.

I’ve heard the moniker applied to just about any destination, from the well and already discovered (Krakow, Riga) to the obscure spots that really only appeal to passport-stamp chasers (Nauru) to the downright dangerous (quick, go to Kabul now, before it gets overrun with tourists!) But, one thing you can be sure of is, say it to any seasoned traveller, and you’ll probably be met with a fair amount of eye-rolling.

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Can fun and marketing coexist?

Jeff Bullas just published a provocatively-titled blog post that's making the rounds: 5 Reasons why Social Media is Not Fun Anymore. He notes that the roots of Facebook and YouTube were in silly, mindless entertainment and personal time-wasting.Now that companies take these spaces seriously and are spending billions of dollars to market in them, have they stopped being fun? And, consequently, does that spell their imminent downfall?

So will social media maintain its fun origins or will big corporate marketing take the fun out of social media and turn them into business tools that are organised and sterilized?

What happens when mom and dad crash the party? Is it the beginning of the end? Or can they join the fun?

Jeff thinks that they can coexist, and that social channels can "continue to keep us entertained, amused, informed and educated all at the same time".

But what about the underlying claim – that people are fun and corporations are serious? Does a company automatically get releged to "boring" status just because its interests are business, not personal?

Maybe. Maybe not. We're seeing examples of companies breaking through the clutter and getting their message across to customers by virtue of the fact that they've retained that sense of fun. And social media is letting them do it in a way that seemed inaccessible when the options amounted to TV or radio.

Sure, far too many companies rely on their agencies or creative teams to "make them look cool". The thing is, social media has a funny way of letting the true character of the company shine through. The boring ones come across as boring, no matter how much they try to hire the young, hip community manager and air the quirky campaign. The fun ones, on the other hand, can display their character and actually get recognition for it.

Jeff makes a great point, that if you suck all the fun out of these spaces, people will migrate elsewhere. If too many marketers march into these parties all buttoned-up and insist on flooding them with boring ads, social media will stop being fun.

But marketers shouldn't feel like they can't join the party. It's easy. Loosen the necktie, roll up the sleeves, and take a few chances. You can be fun and successful at the same time. You just have to dress for the occasion.