6 ways to screw up with social CRM

By Chris Bucholtz

Some things are more digestible in numbered groups: the five stages of grief, the 12 days of Christmas, the seven habits of highly effective people, the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Here’s one for you: the six ways people screw up social CRM. That’s not just a random grouping I came up with. You can also blame Brent Leary for it. He and I brainstormed it while working on a webinar on the topic of social CRM and social media failures. We enjoyed doing it so much, we’re now doing a regular segment on his radio show “Technology for Business Sake” about epic social failures on the part of business, and what you can learn from them.

In preparing for the webinar, we brought all of our favorite fails to the table and sorted through them. We went deep; we must have talked about three dozen incidents of businesses shooting themselves in the feet with social. They could be broken out into six distinct categories:

1. Not Listening

This is something a lot of companies are doing passively – it’s a sin of omission, not a sin of commission. A study by Maritz published in late 2011 found that 71 percent of the 1300 consumers surveyed did not get an answer after posting a customer complaint to Twitter. Another study by eConsultancy UK found that only 5 percent of questions posted to corporate Facebook brand pages were answered. When that’s the level of engagement a business has, and something goes wrong, it’s a recipe for a backlash via social – which we’ve seen over the years, starting with Jeff Jarvis’ “Dell Hell” and continuing to this day. The lesson: pay attention to your customers.

2. Failing to Get Ahead of the Storm

If you are listening, you need to act – and you need to act at the speed of social. That’s not at the speed of some businesses, sadly; Brent pointed out that it took 13 hours for FedEx to respond when video was posted last year of a delivery man throwing a computer monitor over a fence. By the time FedEx said anything, there were 4800 Tweets about it. By the time FedEx put up a blog post about it, 40 hours had elapsed and there were over 15,000 Tweets flitting through the Twitterverse. The delivery man’s actions were inexcusable – but so was FedEx’s calcified reaction to a viral video that has, to date, been viewed 8.8 million times. The best intentions are undone by delays.

3. Going Social Without Sensitivity

Yes, you can certainly get more views of your Tweets and your Facebook page if you relate your posts to current events. But you can also look like a boor if you try to exploit tragedy or misfortune, like one dress company did by using the hashtag #aurora to promote its dresses the day of the “Batman” premiere shootings in Colorado. Tacky. In another instance, Habitat Retail started chucking the hashtag #Mousavi in posts because it was trending thanks to the deadly protests going on at the time in Iran.

“Tag-jacking” is classless and uncool, and your potential customers will spot that. Similarly, you need to be sensitive to social media efforts that could backfire. For instance, Qantas Airlines held a Twitter contest encouraging people to Tweet about the experiences with the airline – right in the middle of a highly unpopular labor dispute. The result was a barrage of snarky comments that had the opposite effect of what Qantas marketing was hoping for.

4. Operating Social Media in a Vacuum

Social campaigns can work very well. So it would make sense for the people running them to talk to the people who will need to handle whatever those campaigns generate – mailing list names, leads, people looking for chicken – in advance. In other words, social media doesn’t operate in a world of its own; practitioners may feel free to try anything, but they’re still part of the company. KFC learned this when they did a promotion for a new chicken dinner offer. Customers who visited KFC’s website – heavily promoted via social media – could get a coupon for two pieces of grilled chicken, two sides and a biscuit. Even Oprah Winfrey talked about it on her show – which prompted an army of customers to overwhelm KFC franchises around the country. Many ran out of chicken; others refused to honor the coupon. The mystery is why KFC couldn’t have used analytics to anticipate the success of the campaign – after all, the customers had to print out a coupon from KFC’s website. But, apparently, none of the appropriate internal linkages between marketing and operations were ever constructed – leaving KFC with egg on its collective face.

5. Underestimating the Customer’s Impact

All too often, businesses dismiss complaints in social media as the products of cranks, or the whining of chronic complainers – and they talk themselves into thinking the rest of the world thinks the way they do. That means they ignore vocal customers – and they do so at great peril. Individual customers now have the power to make great changes – as was the case when a 22-year-old woman named Molly Katchpole countered rumors of a new monthly fee form Bank of America for using debit cards. She started a social media campaign and an on-line petition at Change.org that netted more than 300,000 signatures and caused B of A to abandon its fee idea.

More recently, a moving company that demonstrated atrocious service to an elderly couple made the mistake of picking a pair whose son was an SEO expert with his own blog. Casey Movers misplaced some of the couple’s items, then answer their complaints with a check far below even the minimum amount prescribed by law. When the couple’s daughter left a negative review on Yelp!, it took 18 months for the moving company to respond (see item 1 above) and when they did it with a letter threatening a lawsuit if they didn’t remove the review. At this point, their son stepped in and let loose with a post that tracked Casey Movers dismal record with the Better Business Bureau, an apparent history of posting fake Yelp! Reviews and other unsavory behaviors that would otherwise not have come to light.

It’s far better to make things right with customers than it is to roll the dice and risk having them relate their poor experiences to millions of other customers.

6. Getting Creepy

We know that social media data is useful in establishing a picture of the customer that has greater depth and completeness than you’d get from traditional CRM sources. But customers don’t consider that data to be yours, even as they voluntarily put it out there via social media. Thus, how you use this information is the difference between being seen as engaged and interested or being a creepy stalker. Case in point: Target has great customer analytics. They don’t rely on social as much as they do on purchase histories; sets of purchases can indicate life events with remarkable precision. So when target cracked the code on things that suggested that a female customer was pregnant, it naturally developed mailers for those women focusing on baby products.

One problem: not everyone was in on the pregnancy news the way Target was. One angry father called Target and read the hapless manager the riot act after his 16-year-old received a mailer with offers for baby clothes, cribs, car seats and the like. The next day, the apologetic father called again, saying that certain things had been going on in his household that he had not been aware of (until Target’s mailer showed up).

Things about kids strike an especially disconcerting note, but so can other bits of information about people. Use them judiciously and wisely – and, as always, don’t make this all about the data. Social media information use without context can get weird fast.