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Facebook and Twitter are not only a lot of people’s favourite waste of time* they are also incredibly powerful marketing tools when used well. But used badly, half-heartedly or without thinking, the results can be disastrous.

Take a recent example of a well-known triple-play provider that decided to embed a promotion in Facebook users’ timelines – in itself a dubious innovation by Zuckerberg’s company. It may be increasing its revenue share, but it’s intrusive.

But anyway, the promotion was inundated with what can only be described as extremely unflattering comments about the company’s customer service and reliability. Some of the comments also featured profanities, further sullying the company’s brand image.

Of course there is a herd instinct that often takes place, in that as soon as negativity takes hold, other people join in whether they have experience of the company or not.

The real issue is that due to the open nature of Facebook, the company cannot do anything about it – they cannot “moderate” the comments. Even the company’s own Facebook page is littered with negative comments.

However they can do something. What is stunning is that the company makes no attempt to reply to the comments. So the impression is made even worse – the company doesn't care and doesn’t even understand the power of the social media it has decided to use

Consumers will believe those comments, see the lack of interaction by the company and look elsewhere for broadband and TV – such is the impact of all the criticism.

The new age of marketing means that consumers, and especially younger ones – the ones more likely to splash their hard earned cash – are much more likely to make their feelings known online, fairly or not.

NewVoiceMedia recently conducted research that revealed that nearly a third of us (31 per cent) post online following inadequate customer service, spreading the complaint across our network and beyond.

The survey of 2,034 UK adults showed that women are nearly twice as likely than men to take out their frustration online, and of the 16-24 age group, this was the case for over 40 per cent – clearly demonstrating the generational importance of a channel that’s likely to explode in relevance as Gen Y consumers’ spending power increases.

What can companies do about this? The obvious answer is to do something about the quality of service you give to customers in the first place. If your product or service isn’t up to scratch, at least ensure that you are seen to be doing something about it.

It’s at the call centre during voice-to-voice contact that you can start undoing your reputation on social media.

This is the chance to show that you really care – to start reversing all those negative comments. After all, the old phrase “no smoke without fire” is apt in these circumstances.

There may well be ‘trolls’ out there, but that is part of the modern Internet. What you can do is start thinking a bit smarter about why you do what you do in social media.

But that starts in the real world. The online world only reflects the real world.

*I wonder what we could be doing with all that time we spend checking our phones and tablets for updates? But that’s a whole other sociological issue to deal with!

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About Paul Fisher

Paul Fisher is the founder of pfanda, the content marketing agency for the information security industry.

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