How social media can hurt business relationships


The social web may be the most revolutionary marketing tool since the advent of radio.  I don’t have to tell you why at this point.  But for all the opportunities, there can also be danger, if the technology is mis-applied or misunderstood. Here are some ways social media can destroy customer relationships:

1)      Hit and run communication.  Many people, especially under-20s who have been conditioned to handle conflict over text messages, mis-use the technology. If 80 percent of communication is non-verbal, how much is lost when customers provide customer service issues over a tweet?  We are more likely to be unprofessional, harsh and inappropriate in writing than in a live conversation and unfortunately, more and more important customer interactions are taking place over short-form messages.

2)      False sense of expectations.  I’ve observed that some companies are urgently getting into the social media scene and then being unprepared for the response.  It’s so easy to connect with customers today, but you better be prepared to connect with them in a meaningful and appropriate way or you will disappoint them and then lose them.

3)      Over-dependence on social media. Pick up a phone. Make a personal visit. Write a thank-you note. Don’t get too hooked on communicating through only social media, especially if it’s not your customer’s preferred way to communicate.   Going old school can actually help you stand out.

4)      Wrong person in charge.  Some companies pick a person to run their social media efforts just because they have a nice Facebook page. Wrong.  Like your website or your sales and customer service efforts, this is your front line of defense. I would much rather have an experienced customer service person learn social media than a social media person learn customer service.

5)      Customers are learning to game us.  I had a company president tell me that he no longer responds to customer complaints over Twitter. Customers caught on that complaints meant free merchandise and the company became overwhelmed. So they just stopped until they can figure out a solution.  Now even people with real complaints are being ignored because it is too difficult to separate the real problems from the gamers.

So, there are a few dangers withn the opportunities. What do you think?  What customer-related dangers could be prompted by using social media in your business?

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  • Excellent observations Mark!

    I’d have to say being too “pitchy” in any type of communication in the social Web is where most people continue to get tripped up. For all the good that might come from an alternate customer service future where companies and brands will come ringing at our doorstep to resolve and cater to our every whim and need, the social Web can also be this perfect storm scenario for shameless self-perpetuation of hype and/or egos. While there are many well-meaning attempts being made to engage and participate in the social Web, approach and tact will always be scrutinized under intense magnification.


  • Mark

    @ Joseph Nice addition, Thanks.

  • Brian Ellis

    Regarding point 1): watch the Comcast accounts on Twitter. They have found a way to do customer service the right way within the confines of social media. All question are handled quickly and friendly. Point one is a very valid point, I just wanted to put in that there are those we can learn from.

  • Point #5 really hits home with me. I’ve often thought that the social media power pendulum is swung too far to the side of the consumer. Because it’s still new, companies don’t want to look foolish on social media so they end up overvaluing customers, which means that those with legitimate complaints end up getting overlooked.

    Some companies, in an effort to curb the gaming, have developed complex social CRMs that place a value on the customer, rather than the complaint, so that unless you’ve built up a respectable following, your complaint is still going to go unnoticed.

  • Mark

    @scott As a rule, complexity is not a benefit in an organization. Thanks for the interesting insight!

    @Brian. Absolutely agree!

  • Mark – great points! I think another thing to piggyback off of point #4 is that even having an inexperienced person/person who lacks a professional online presence can hurt too.

    What I mean by this is that having someone who is neither experienced in CRM/Customer Service or social media can be disastrous. Too many spelling errors, not telling employees about SM promotions can quickly kill a company’s SM rep.

  • Mark

    @Aaron — Superb point. Thanks!

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