Psst Jeremy Toeman: That’s why Social Media is a Big Deal

Jeremy Toeman, a fellow friend and colleague of strong opinion (I mean that in a good way Jeremy), titled a post “Stop Trusting the Internet!“, a missive against rumors, misleading headlines, exaggerations and falsehoods that exist on the Internet:

“Let’s face it, the news is more about entertainment and ad revenue than it is about reporting facts and accuracy. Just because it happened online doesn’t make it real.”

Unfortunately, he’s incorrect. If enough people believe in something it can be as good as real. Like I blogged about yesterday, anecdotal stories are powerful forces effecting products, brands and company images. And it is part of how our brains are generally wired.

People believing the Internet is why PR and and Social Media matters. Your brand is not under your control, it is beholden by the same people – that’s everyday people like you and me – who may believe an email forward, word-of-mouth story via an Amazon.com review or a powerful brand-bruising blog like the Consumerist.

Take a look at one of the top articles on Consumerist today “Delta Makes Woman With Muscular Dystrophy Crawl Off Plane“.

” Julianna, who has muscular dystrophy, missed the connecting flight because nobody came with a wheelchair until 8:05—the same time the connecting flight took off. To make matters worse, the plane crew told Julianna she might make the flight anyway if she stopped waiting for help and got off the plane right now, so she crawled down the stairs on her own.

While I have no reason to not believe what Julianna says, what if the Consumerist or any similar site not “double-checked the source” like Jeremy Toeman asks for? That doesn’t matter. Despite 4-5 pages of commenters denouncing Delta, no Delta community manager has responded to the article. Does Delta have a tool like Radian6 to monitor their brand online? Or a community manager to address issues?

Instead we are left with comments after comments of these:

I’m utterly aghast and disgusted. My sister also suffers from MS and I, for one, was furious to read about your treatment. Delta Airlines will no longer be seeing any more of my travel money.

For these Consumerist readers, Delta’s brand has been killed and there is no one at Delta responding.

Is Julianna’s account accurate? As of now, we don’t know and it does not matter. Damage has been done to the Delta brand for everyone who has seen the article.

Who cares if you should believe everything on the Internet? If you know enough of your audience does, you should be there to protect your brand. What are consumers saying about your brand right now?

3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m translating your anecdote about Delta here: It’s okay to make brash accusations about companies because that’ll force em to get better at dealing with social media. I may be off by a word or too, but I think that does sum it up.

    Furthermore – let’s say Delta really WAS monitoring things and contacted Consumerist and said “this never happened.” First, they’d have to PROVE it didn’t happen, otherwise they’d get more negative accusations. Second, on the hypothetical that they could prove it, the damage is already done. Not nearly enough people will remember the Consumerist retracting or even deleting the original article.

    The burden right now is on the blogger/reporter/tweeter to fact check as much as possible. Maybe the Consumerist SHOULD have confirmed the story from a second source – another passenger, etc? The path you are following is basically giving anyone who publishes content a free ride on the lazy train.

    Should companies be monitoring this stuff online? Yes, you are certainly right about that. But I do not agree that it is okay to condone laziness or a lack of fact-checking in any way, and it should not be tolerated or pandered to at all.

    Strong enough opinion? 🙂

  2. Good post and agree with the majority of your comments.

    Any business, especially those of Delta’s size should be monitoring social media. But it is not just monitoring that is important but engaging. Had they been watching they would have tracked the trajectory and velocity of the comments and been able to respond accurately.

    “Yes it happened we made someone crawl off a plane, the person responsible for letting this happen has been fired”

    “no it did not happen, and the lady in question says so (because we reached out and found her”

    Either way it shows that the company is responsive, yes it damages the brand because of the negative sentiment, but the responsiveness of Delta (if they had done it) would have reduced the impact.

    Radian6 is a perfect tool for situations such as this a “PR Crisis!” Radian6 would have given Delta the ability to track the speed and direction of the comments, drill down to the specifics and deal with it.

  3. You hit the Bull’s Eye, Daniel.

    The fact that rumours, exaggerations, incorrect information, etc. are present on the social web is all the more reason why a brand should participate in the conversation.

    As I was reading your post, the thought occurred to me that the phenomenon is not much different from regular word of mouth conversations amoungst customers that has been going on for centuries. Customers have always described things as they see them, factual or not. Now, because these conversations can spread online, brands have the opportunity to join in.

    Marcel

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