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How not to fall from grace through social media

Some companies still don’t get it. When you hand over your social media password to an employee, you might as well be giving him or her a full-page ad in the New York Times, or a prime time TV advertising spot. “Here you are, go for it! Just put together whatever you feel like saying about our company whenever you feel like it.” You wouldn’t dream of giving random employees free rein.

But many companies are essentially doing just that when they trust untrained employees with their social media feed. And social media never sleeps. That’s what US-based clothing company Hawke & Co, which bills itself as a ‘lifestyle brand for the modern explorer’, found out this past weekend. Presumably the company’s social media professionals (if they have any) were taking a break when Twitter user @cconti tweeted his dissatisfaction with the company’s customer service. Check out this tweet – and the reply:

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Hawke & Co obviously weren’t prepared for what happened next. In a social media storm which erupted within a matter of hours, their company was slammed by the Twitterverse as the exchange went viral. Scores of Twitter users including legendary writers Paulo Coehlo and Neil Gaiman came out in support of @cconti. The full sad saga continued on until late Sunday night when the company issued a public apology.

It’s impossible to know what was going on in the mind of this person tweeting for Hawke & Co, but it seems like s/he was trying to save face. Yet when dealing with customers, you have no face to save. These people are the reason you exist. They pay your wages, and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Make your customer happy again

The correct response to a complaint about your business is not to mock the person who made the complaint. Even if you would speak to your boss like that (and I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t), the discussion is not just about you. You’re the voice of the company. Companies make mistakes, and they’re not – or shouldn’t be – ashamed to admit it. Setting things right after a minor blunder gives you a chance to show off just how great you really are.

What can we learn from this? The most obvious point is that even today, there are still companies out there who are completely unaware of the power of social media. Hawke & Co were clearly clueless when it came to Twitter, apparently believing that a user with few followers has very few people listening in (the company was later revealed to have 19,444 fake followers and only 39 real ones).

Some people might suggest that undergoing social media training is overkill for SMEs with just a few employees. But the Hawke & Co fiasco is testament to the damage that can be wrought through incompetent social media use. It's an SME - with 20 employees in 2012 - suffering from untold damage to its brand.

The whole thing could have been avoided with a relatively small financial investment. Or you could simply try my top tip from my time as an online customer service rep: when you get that feeling that you just have to reply to an annoying message from a customer, right that minute – sit on your hands.