Should Social Media be a Tool for Consumer Battles?

Social media is primarily used as a tool for customer engagement, where brands grow their following through interactions and shared content.

But more and more, we’re seeing instances of consumers turning that around. In fact, in a recent post, I explored how brands use social media for customer service, and why it’s really not enough after telecommunications brand O2 failed to answer my requests until I spoke publicly to them via Twitter. Today, another case has arisen which has caught my attention.

Consumer vs British Gas

Martin Macdonald works for Expedia EAN and is well known and respected in the digital marketing community. He has a good following on all of his social media, and his blog is widely read. As I type this, Martin is launching his campaign against  British Gas (and more specifically, @BritishGasHelp ) following unsatisfactory communications with their customer service team.

Already, Martin has a Twitter campaign centred around publically naming and shaming @BritishGasHelp, which is gaining retweets from some of his influential followers (as well as some response from British Gas themselves). He’s also created a Facebook page which aims to draw further attention to his plight and what he is terming the ‘Dyno Rod Scam @BritishGasHelp‘.

And low and behold, in the time it’s taken for me to write this post, Martin’s received a response:

dyno rod british gas scamI do wish Martin well and hope it gets the resolution he seeks. He has the knowledge to utilise social media in this way and is clearly making use of it – potentially in a way that many other British Gas customers could not.

That said, it angers me that anyone should have to resort to what is essentially a social media battle in order to get results. As I stated in my post about O2 social media customer service:

“When we condition our audience to believe that they’ll only get good service by airing their grievances publicly, they’re only going to air them publicly in the future.”

What brands need to realise is that cases like mine, Martin’s and Ian Golding‘s (who commented on my previous post with his experience with Morrisons social media team) are not one-offs. Where once brands found consumers just starting out in social media, they now find consumers who are far more savvy in their use of Facebook, Twitter etc and it is those consumers who are being empowered by brands’ shortcomings – and who represent a threat to the brand they take on, and social media customer service as a whole.

Customer Service is Not a PR Activity

As more and more people take to social media to air their grievances, brands will have to find a way to manage them. I noted in my O2 post that managing expectations is key; brands need to let customers know how to contact them, what response time they can expect and so on.

They also need to make sure their social media team is just as customer-service-centric as all other customer facing departments – essentially, the customer service reps on the phones and in stores need to be just as well equipped to respond quickly and effectively as their social media counterparts.

Customer service is NOT a PR activity, nor should it be. A privately aired grievance should bear just as much weight as one aired via Twitter – customers deserve that and brands need to provide it.

A Battle to the Death?

But equally, as consumers we must act conscientiously. Whilst I have cited examples here of people taking to social media in order to get a faster response, we also see cases where a full on campaign has been launched and when this activity starts to be replicated, we risk bringing down the very platform we use to empower us.

Social media should lead to positivity. It is a medium through which brands can engage with their customers and where we as consumers can strengthen our affiliations with those brands. When we use social media against those brands, we’ve got to wonder… will social media for business continue to thrive? Or will we see businesses change their approach to social media, or even cease to use it entirely?

I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet me @lauralhampton using #SMBattles. You can follow Martin’s battle via his blog.


4 thoughts on “Should Social Media be a Tool for Consumer Battles?

  1. Hi Laura,

    thanks for the blog post featuring my plight on social media earlier – for what its worth I would have always ended up with a satisfactory resolution from them, as if they continued pontificating further I would pursue legal action to fix the damage that was caused.

    My genuine concern was always for those that would have been vulnerable, people like any elderly relative you or I or indeed any readers of the blog will have. Those are the people that would have just paid an inflated bill at the outset, and that was the nature of our initial complaint.

    One important factor is that British Gas still are yet to respond to the allegation of an up selling culture that pervades in their company when dealing with insurance work.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next day or two…


    • Hi Martin,

      Thanks for commenting. I’m glad you appreciate my blog; I wanted to comment on the situation as it seems to me like this problem keeps on arising, and brands keep failing to rise to the occasion.

      I have no doubt that you would have ended up with a satisfactory conclusion, and completely understand your stance. You have the knowledge and ability to utilise social media in this way, so using it to get your problems solved is well within your rights.

      I share your concern though – indeed those people you term ‘vulnerable’ may well have paid the inflated bill, but equally it is those people who lack your skills or knowledge who ultimately suffer when social media is the most effective route to resolution. The quote my friend shared with me resonates here – “I don’t care how many followers your blog has, you’ll wait in line like everyone else.” Whilst it is important that we as consumers are able to empower ourselves, it is essential that brands combat that by ensuring that every customer is treated fairly and equally – no matter how much of a PR ripple they might make online.

      Of course, I mean this with all due respect to you – and disappointment that these types of brands haven’t already reached this conclusion.

      I’ll follow your story with interest. Once again, thanks for commenting.


  2. Pingback: Guest Post: The Impact of Social Media on Customer Service | I think, therefore I write...

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