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The curse of the social media mob

Rapidly mobilised online campaigns can harm retailersÂ’ revenue as well as reputation. How do you stay on top of the conversations happening online about your brand? Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, discusses the issues.


The curse of the social media mob

We’re used to reading horror stories in the press about consumers taking to social media channels to voice negative opinions about a retailer, its polices, products or sadly often its customer service.

The speed and scope of the backlash can be ferocious and the outcome damning.  Recent campaigns by the public saw one sportswear clothing giant cancelling an entire new product line.

This type of experience has showed retailers that the impact of social media can be significant, both in terms of market share, cost and consumer perception.

But are they doing anything about it?  A recent KPMG Public Company Audit Committee Member Survey found that only 8% of respondents believed their company would be ready to respond adequately in the event of a crisis going viral through social networks.

Retailers must sit down, assess the risks and opportunities that social media presents and formulate a social media strategy and invest in the resource to implement it. 

Despite the immense risks involved in doing nothing, businesses are being slow to take action.  A 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that only 28% of businesses have a social media strategy (this rises to 37% among multinationals), and only 12% have an employee dedicated to social media.

A successful strategy will encompass both monitoring social media data and engaging with the influential sites and people whose commentary can trigger potential reputation issues, and the topic areas where they might arise.

It must recognise that risks come from within the business.  After all, employees must understand what the business’ social strategy is and the guidelines that apply to them.  This really is an issue that goes right to the top.  Consumers on social media don’t distinguish employees by pay grade or job – they will quickly take any member of a company to task if they think they are getting anything less than the service they deserve. 

Damage can also be inflicted by other organisations who the public perceive as being linked to the retailer.  So it’s important to monitor what suppliers, partners and even celebrity endorsers are saying.
If crisis strikes, you must engage.  Speed is paramount – this is no time to hunker down.  As Google CEO Eric Schmidt said: "It is a mistake to look into the mirror and try and break the mirror… if you have a problem, use the internet to understand what that problem is."

Ignoring a problem doesn’t mean it will go away and that UK plc must accept that the rules have changed and conversations can no longer be controlled. Firms must acknowledge that, only by being authentic, can they expect to appeal to customers tired of corporate spin.  When it’s clear that they have nothing to hide they are much less likely to be on the receiving end of public criticism and are perceived as trustworthy

Retailers must consider how they can use social media positively: to build relationships with consumers, engage with them and provide a better service.  After all, with risks, come opportunities.

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