Case Study: How Facebook Users Halted a $100 Million Project

I was once told by a marketing manager that her company's senior executive adamently refused to permit them to establish a blog or Facebook page. His reason? He feared people would start saying bad things about their organization if they got on social media.

He seemed totally unaware that people were already talking about his company and others on social media. People use these platforms to comment about their experiences with the products they buy and the services they receive.

He did not realize that having an online presence on Facebook or a blog merely gives a business the opportunity find out about and then respond to any negative comments people make.

Reputation management is one of the most important reasons businesses need to be using social media. Regardless of what business you are in, chances are someone has an opinion about your company, your brand, your product or your service. And most likely they are expressing these opinions on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or some other social media platform.

If your organization is not listening on social media, you have no opportunity to respond to the opinions expressed by others. And if you don't respond immediately and on same communication media, your brand can suffer significant harm.

For example, United Airlines' response respond to Dave Carroll's video "United Breaks Guitars" was woefully slow. And when they did respond, it was couched with insincere-sounding words like "regrettable incident" to describe how their employees damaged a $3500 guitar.

Had the flower delivery service FTD been listening on Twitter, they would have learned that Lena West was venting about her frustrations over the fact that FTD had not delivered the arrangement she had paid for and were stonewalling her efforts to get the matter corrected on her blog and Twitter.

By not playing in the social media sandbox, these companies were blindsided by people who were expressing very negative opinions about their brands. They lost the opportunity to manage their reputations.

Which leads me to another example of how a business' failure to engage with social media cost them big. In this case, $100 million.

Developers and business leaders in Huntington, NY on Long Island foresaw no hurdles to an affordable housing development. But opponents objected to it because they felt it would bring in low-income residents and balloon school enrollment.

At first the opponents tried to mobilize protesters with traditional methods like posting street signs and protesting at zoning meetings, but got no traction until they went online and created a Facebook page that took a stand against the development.

The Facebook campaign quietly built opposition leading up to a town board meeting on the plan.

Meanwhile, the developers were not listening on Facebook, and had no idea their project was in trouble. When the meeting took place, they were taken completely by surprise to find that the board had been swayed against their project.

As one of the opponents put it:
We were a bunch of moms," said Jennifer LaVertu, an opposition leader. "I didn't even have to be home to do it. We could access Facebook by phone, dropping a message to everyone that we needed them at town hall that night for a protest. It helped us organize much more quickly.

Too many business executives are still sitting on the social media sidelines, filled with skeptisism and confusion. Understandably they are not pleased by the changes social media can make to their old ways of doing business, but that is hardly an excuse to stick their heads in the ground. On Long Island, that mentality cost developers $100 million.

Here's what businesses can do to manage their reputations effectively with social media:
  • Track all mentions of your brand, company name or products on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
  • Just listen to conversations already taking place. Don't be in a hurry to express your point of view or cram information down people's throats.
  • Be authentic and honest. Don't mislead people about who you are and what company you represent. Believe me, others have tried to be deceptive and have been found out. And it is never pretty.
  • Make friends. Treat the people who are tweeting and commenting about your topic as real people. Be helpful.
  • When someone presents misinformation, remember there is a tactful and friendly way to offer rebuttal information. Tread gently.

Perhaps listening on social media won't save your company $100 million, but it could help you protect your brand's reputation when a crisis occurs.

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COPYRIGHT © 2010, Charles Brown

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