Upside-Down Thinking by Patric Fransko
by Patric Fransko
April 12th, 2017

How Social Media Can Destroy Your Business

I imagine that the title of this article took some of you off guard. If you have read this column for any period of time, you know that I’m a strong proponent of using social media to grow your brand and your business. So, why the title about it destroying your business? Because I’m writing this on the night that news broke about United Airlines forcibly removing a passenger from one of its aircrafts because it had oversold the flight. The same social media forces that can act to help propel your business and spread good things about your company can act in the opposite direction and cause issues that you never anticipated. This article focuses on three things that you can do to ensure that social media works to your advantage instead of against your business.

  1. Everyone is watching. In a day when everyone has a mass media device right in their pocket, you must assume that everything you do as a company can be documented via recording, picture or video. That is not to say that it was ever acceptable to treat a customer improperly or do the wrong thing, it just means that when those actions occur, they can be shared with hundreds, if not thousands, of people quickly and easily.
    Let’s take this case with United Airlines. I’m sure that if the officers involved and the executives at United knew that this incident would be shared via video and would go viral within a day, they may have made a different decision. From what I read, they were within their rights to ask the passenger to give up the seat, but the way they handled it made them out to be the bad guy, and now it’s all over the internet for everyone to see. In the past, an incident like this might have been seen by the few hundred people on-board and the handful that they would tell. In 2017, United Airlines had a PR disaster on their hands before that flight even landed, and it’s going to take a lot of money and time to recover it.
  2. Are the rules too rigid? Your company likely does, and should, have policies in place for things that need to be dealt with. However, are those policies so rigid that they don’t allow someone at the operational level of your business to make a call that deviates if the situation warrants? In the United case, I would have to believe that forcibly dragging someone off the plane had to strike someone as not being the best option. Could they have offered other passengers more money to change flights to avoid this situation? Could the attendants on-hand been empowered, within reason, to strike a deal that was agreeable to all parties without the situation escalating the way that it did? My guess is that the answer to those questions is yes; however, the employees were sticking rigidly to the policy and failed to see or seek other alternatives. This led to a situation that will likely cost United many, many times what a resolution up front would have cost, and it also will have the PR black eye for some time.
  3. Don’t make excuses. If all fails and you do make a mistake, own up to it and don’t make excuses. It’s bad enough that you made whatever the mistake was, but trying to excuse it only creates more bad feelings with the wronged party and others watching from the sidelines. When these things happen, address it directly with the other party by apologizing and asking what you can do to make it right. This may cost you a little bit of money, but the goal here is to make the wronged party happy with the resolution so they do not take to social media to vent about the situation. The cost of them telling their side of the story across social media, even if untrue, could cost you many times more than what taking care of it on the spot would have.

I know this likely comes across as just another way of saying, “The customer is always right.” But, that’s not my intention, and we certainly all know that sometimes the customer is wrong. I just want to encourage you to fully understand that the platform people have with social media can be used to help grow your business when good things are being said, and it can be devastating to your business when bad things are being spread. Count the costs and ask yourself these three questions: Do I want everyone to know about this? Am I being too rigid in an effort to win the argument and not seeing that I am losing the war? Am I making excuses for something that we did incorrectly instead of just making it right?

I hope this article serves to help you take a closer look at how disputes are handled in your business and prepares you to diffuse them before they become a PR nightmare like United Airlines now faces.

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