Want a Reaction? Complain on Twitter

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A few years ago I tweeted about walking out of a shop disgust after watching two of the world’s worst sales assistants laughing at a customer from afar (You can read the original blog post here). Very quickly I received reply from the shop’s Twitter account, which resulted in them sending me an email apologising and saying what they would be doing to put it right.

Which leads me to question, are big companies really paying attention to their social media? Do they have staff scouring Twitter for complaints or anything that could defame their brand? Or do they just leave automated robots to send out generic tweets?

Stefan Stieglitz and Nina Krüger, professors in social media and psychology, believe that companies are paying attention to their social media. They note that enterprises have noticed that just having a standalone website is not enough. Companies need to interact with their customers more directly to successfully follow trends and identify new markets.

Stieglitz and Krüger discuss this in their chapter in Twitter and Society: an introduction, stating, “Communication data in public social media can be understood as a rich source of information that can be utilised by enterprises. Additionally, enterprises are also able to interact directly and publicly with their target groups.” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.281)

But social media can be tricky to navigate. As social media platforms expand, and new ones are created, it becomes increasingly difficult for companies to protect their reputation online. “Enterprises face the challenge, for example, of having to identify relevant pieces of communication, of having to react appropriately to messages from customers, or of being suddenly affected by negative feedback, or even by social media “shitstorms” (social crises).” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.281)

Even in 2013, the company I tweeted reacted to my complaint almost immediately. It was obvious that they had some sort of complaints procedure put in place. According to Stieglitz and Krüger, “larger enterprises have established well-directed issue management processes in order to monitor or even influence public opinion about their products, services, and reputation.” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.284)

If I had emailed the company instead of tweeting about them, would they have reacted so quickly? A carefully written tweet sent out to the whole world is much more dangerous than a direct email. This is likely why unhappy customers are taking to social media to complain.

“Determining the appropriate reaction to issues in social media is difficult, since, for the most part, best practices have not yet been established. Additionally, it has to be considered that crisis situations usually have a unique character which makes it difficult to elaborate a structured management process.” (Stieglitz and Krüger, 2014, p.286)

This is very important for me to consider as I’m in the process of setting myself up as a social media consultant. It’s hard to know what advice to give to smaller companies and freelancers who could easier be ruined by just one bad comment.

A quick reaction seems to the best option, but there needs to be a balance between apologising to customers and accepting fault when there was none. I know of many sole traders in the ‘handmade’ market who have given refunds to avoid bad press they just can’t afford. These are the people who need help, and who should be look at larger companies who are taking the lead on social media.

Stieglitz, S & Krüger, N. 2014. Public Enterprise-Related Communication and Its Impact on Social Media Issue Management. In: Bruns, A. et al. eds. Twitter and Society. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

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Interview: Where Did All The Forums Go?

 

As social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become popular, the message boards and forums of the early internet years have disappeared. It seems that everything you post online can be found by the anyone and everyone.

Enter the Facebook group. But does it live up to the old school forums?

I was a member of many forums as a teenager and am now a member of many Facebook groups, from craft groups to secret groups where I can rant if I’ve had a bad day. One of my favourite groups is Bunny Approved Group, a place where rabbit-lovers can post pictures and ask for advice.

I had a chat with owner, Christina Chivers, who also runs Bunny Approved Pet Rabbit Supplies (based in North Carolina), about how she overcomes issues of privacy while keeping a happy community, and why she created a group in the first place.

She said, “I own a small business (Bunny Approved) and I first created a [Facebook] page for it. After a while I noticed that people would ask questions about their rabbit’s behaviour or health. The questions would end up on the side of the page and no one else ever really saw them, so there were few responses.

“At the time I usually replied to those questions myself or posted them on the page for everyone to answer. That didn’t seem like a good solution over time, though, so I decided to create a group. People can now post and communicate with each other and I don’t necessarily have to be involved 24/7. If someone has a crisis at 3 am in the morning, SOMEONE will be there to help or give advice.”

After hearing that Christina’s group originated from her own business I immediately thought of my previous post on social capital.  Was this group just a way to get more customers? Did it work?

“I am not sure if it has resulted in more orders. As a whole, being on Facebook has increased orders, yes. It also gives me an opportunity to meet my customers and their rabbits. When they order, I know many of them from social media. It’s nice.”

Although, Christina doesn’t seem to be running her group this way at all. Scrolling through you see no advertisements, no pushy sale posts. In fact, most people (me included) don’t even realise that the group was an extension of her Facebook page, and she doesn’t seem to mind at all.

She noted, “the group was created for the members more than for me.” Though she does like to interact in the group occasionally. She said, “I don’t like bothering people with ads. If I post something and people ask me where the toy in the picture is from, I send them a link to the store. That’s my advertising. I think the group and page together create a nice community and I love being a part of that.”

But does the Facebook group live up to the forum?14054235_1422988164383897_5858775414260033231_n.jpg

Christina had an interesting view on this. “I figured the group on Facebook is what a forum used to be a few years ago. Instead of having a forum people have to actively go to, everyone is already on Facebook. To me, a Facebook group is the modern forum of the internet.”

When you make your group you can choose different levels of privacy, from public to secret, and have just as much control as you want. While the forums I used to know and love were very private, Christina is happy for her page to be public.

“I wanted people to be able to see what the group is about before they decide to be a member. Also, I think it cuts down on drama. I don’t want people to come into the group bashing others while knowing no one else will see it outside of the group. I may be wrong, but in my mind keeping it public is a way to remind people of their manners. If you wouldn’t say it in public, you should maybe not say it at all.”

Her group is a place where people are encouraged to report posts or tag her in conversations that are turning nasty, and it really seems to work. As a regular poster I barely see any trouble on this group at all. Whereas, private and secret groups seem to have a lot more trouble.

She said, “Someone posts a picture that causes heated discussions. Then I deal with it and the next day someone wants to talk about how mean people were the day before. It’s senseless round and round in those cases. Usually a couple of people have to be removed to make peace again.”

But it is still a ‘members only’ group where people are screened before being added. For example, breeders won’t get accepted. “Some people just aren’t a good fit for this particular group, but there are others for them out there and they should turn to those.”

So it seems that the forum didn’t disappear, it just evolved into something new, something more mouldable where you only have the level of privacy you need. The Facebook group.

All photos from BunnyApproved.com

The Imagined Audience: Who Am I Writing For?

When I write this blog, who am I writing for? I’d say it’s mainly for myself, and maybe the odd passerby. But there’s always the thought that some of my followers may be reading, a friend may have a quick look or a stranger may accidentally come across it. This is my imagined audience.

Marwick and boyd (2010) state that “participants have a sense of audience in every mediated conversation, whether on instant messenger or through blog comments. This audience is often imagined and constructed by an individual in order to present themselves appropriately, based on technological affordances and immediate social context.”

The imagined audience may be completely different to the actual audience but it still influences how people present themselves online. To put it into simple terms, if you’re going to a job interview you will dress smartly, speak more clearly and maybe try to smile more. Your imagined audience is the interviewer. But how many people do you meet on the way to that job interview? That is your actual audience.

When Twitter users with a small following were asked who they are writing for they said they are just writing for themselves, like an online diary, or to update friends. Whereas those with a larger following they treat their imagines audience like fans.

“Part of the difficulty is that ‘friends’ is an overloaded term in social media (boyd, 2008). One user described her friends as people she followed, while another talked about writing to her ‘IRL friends’ to signal people she knew outside of Twitter.”(Marwick and boyd, 2010)

So actually when the users referred to friends they actually meant potential friends as well as real-life friends. Similarly, celebrities writing to their fans are actually reaching fans, potential fans and everyone else.

“We may understand that the Twitter or Facebook audience is potentially limitless, but we often act as if it were bounded.”(Marwick and boyd, 2010). We write for our imagined audience when our possible audience is everyone. Once you put something online it has the potential to reach anyone.

But how does this affect what people write? Or is it too easy to forget that there’s a wider world out there?

The Twitter users writing for ‘just me’ know that they have an audience but it’s easier for them to ignore it, while they’re writing at least. “What emerges here is not that these individuals lack an audience, but that they are uncomfortable labeling interlocutors and witnesses as an ‘audience’ […] In other words, consciously speaking to an audience is perceived as inauthentic.” (Marwick and boyd, 2010)

It’s not that these Twitter users don’t want to be seen or followed. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. This sense of authenticity is all part of how they want to be seen by their imagined audience. They are ‘branding’ themselves as an authentic person, as larger companies do when trying to attract customers.

Although I feel like I may have fallen into the trap of writing for my imagined audience it’s a flawed concept. I see that companies can gain more followers by marketing themselves as ‘authentic’ because no one likes talking to an automated robot man. But why are so many normal people going to that trouble when behind all that blogging, tweeting and emailing we are all real people? We’re faking our own authenticity.

(This is my first reading summary so any feedback will be appreciated)

Marwick, A. E. & boyd, d. (2010) I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience. New Media & Society.

The online version of this article can be found at:
http://nms.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/06/22/1461444810365313