Companies Still Fear Social Reviews

Ann All

Many companies fear the wrath of dissatisfied customers when it comes to social media. When I spoke to CRM Essentials co-founder and partner Brent Leary last month about social CRM, he told me:


Many times when I talk to companies about social CRM, I get a lot of questions along the lines of "What if someone says something bad about our product or company?" Obviously people may not say things like that on a company blog, but chances are they are saying it somewhere. Companies have to learn that, in honest conversations, people will sometimes say negative things. That's a tough hang-up for a lot of companies.


Forty-five percent of retailers surveyed by The E-Tailing Group apparently have that hang-up. Fifty-five percent allow customer reviews on their Web sites and blogs. That seems like a fairly healthy number and is an increase from a similar 2007 survey by MarketingSherpa. Yet it's less than the number using Facebook Fan pages (86 percent) and Twitter (65 percent), a relative babe in the social media woods when compared to both Facebook and online reviews, to promote their products.


And here's the weird part: A whopping 85 percent of respondents believe online customer reviews are a good way to boost sales, while just 33 percent of companies believe a Facebook Fan page can drive sales.


Respondents seemingly fear customer negativity less on Twitter and Facebook than in reviews. Said E-tailing Group spokeswoman Lauren Freedman:


Brands are especially worried about negative comments hurting a brand, but they also know that they need to go social. That's why they're using Facebook and Twitter with some success.


But a little negativity shouldn't hurt brands and in fact may help them. If companies respond to negative reviews in a thoughtful way, there's a good chance it'll improve customer conversation rates. As I noted in my post from last month, that's how it works in the offline world. If a restaurant manager goes to the trouble of apologizing for a bad meal or slow service, explains the anomalous nature of a problem and refunds the cost or otherwise makes it right, I'll be far more likely to give the place another try. And I'll probably tell my friends about it.


Responding promptly and courteously to disgruntled buyers can make them "your best cheerleader and your customers for life," said Tim Harris, co-CEO of La Tienda, an online retailer of gourmet foodstuffs from Spain, in a Forbes article I cited. The article also mentioned luggage retailer eBags and other companies that listen to negative customer feedback and use it to improve their products.


The E-Tailing Group survey paints a rosy picture of social media adoption. Twenty-five percent of respondents expect companies will be "much more aggressive" with social media in the next six months, while 50 percent said companies will be "more aggressive." Another quote from Freedman:


Quick adoption of social networks is a guarantee over the next six months. That's mainly due to movements to social brands by the competition.


I find that a little troubling. Doing something primarily because you're afraid of falling behind your competitors doesn't seem like a smart strategy and may lead to missteps. I liked the advice offered by Clara Shih, developer of the Faceconnector application on Facebook and author of "The Facebook Era," when I spoke to her in May. She said:


If you're going to use Facebook or Twitter for customer service or for recruiting in a particular way, that won't work for every company. Not every company should just jump on the bandwagon. They should identify for themselves what are the highest leverage parts of the business. There are risks associated with social networks, and costs. It could take a lot of time to establish and maintain a presence. There's a lot of hype. It's just like 16 years ago; the first Web sites we saw were people just throwing their brochures online. That wasn't taking advantage of the unique nature of the Internet. In the same way, people don't understand the unique value of social networks. They're not mapping it to their processes. I think it'll get better over time, just like we all learned to be more sophisticated Internet users.

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