Fresh eyes

Managing the power of citizen journalists

Pencil, camera and trilby with press card

Written by Emma Rawlinson,
at Freshfield

Before the internet, it tended to be journalists who could make or break brands through publishing their opinion to large audiences.

Not anymore. In the last 12 months, over 18 million people have used social media as a tool of voicing their opinion on various brands. Staggering.

These are the new army of citizen journalists. They’re quick, have a following and worryingly they’re not always right. But they have influence.

Virgin Media recently fell to the bottom of the customer service charts when it sent a bill to a deceased customer, a picture of which went viral online resulting in an onslaught of negative reaction.

Many big brands seem to be getting their online community management and customer service strategies wrong or simply don’t have one. Every week at Freshfield, we see examples of poor online customer service from sportswear manufacturers to phone providers.

But it’s not just the big boys who need to take the correct action dealing with people’s digital thoughts and complaints.

Social media and the internet is causing major concerns for every business sector, making it much easier for people to find ways of speaking out.

If a council’s refuse service is late, it’s not long before someone posts an image of an overfilled wheelie bin on Twitter and a host of other residents join in the conversation with similar complaints. A developer launching a new housing village can open itself up to a barrage of negativity online if one individual doesn’t agree with the architecture. And if a hotel serves up an uncooked piece of meat, it will be ‘snapped’ and across social media in no time.

All businesses of all sizes need to understand that customer relations policies require investment, resource and a firm understanding of how people communicate today.

In the last two years, Dell has trained over 25,000 of its employees in social listening. The teams monitored social mentions of the company in 11 different languages, allowing Dell to respond to customers at a rapid rate.

Blackberry’s English social media channel is reported to answer 13,300 questions per month and posts 30 tips per day on Twitter with the hashtag #BBTips, resulting in more than 600 million people seeing Dell’s content. With its service programme set to expand further, so too will its potential to interact with customers on a global scale.

Freshfield has been working with housing associations, hotels, lawyers, accountants, public sector bodies and educational institutions to put into place online customer relations management systems.

Planning the resource to monitor and manage sentiment, enquiries and complaints is the only sure-fire way of improving customer relations and sustaining a reputation.

Top 5 tips for a successful online customer relations strategy:  

  • Embrace the appropriate social media channel for your target audience.  Are your customers mostly on Facebook or do your clients have Twitter profiles?
  • Invest time in developing a strong social media policy and communication guidelines for staff to shape how to respond to public conversations.
  • Assign a person, team or external agency  to monitor mentions and sentiment. Remember, social media needs to be monitored 24/7 so you may need to equip staff with android phones or iPads.
  • Ensure you follow-through all online mentions where relevant and get back to people promptly to update the customer on progress.
  • Be prepared for others to contribute. Quite often when a customer openly contacts you with a complaint, others will follow and negativity can gain momentum. To help eliminate this,  identify problems so you can contact your customers before they contact you.


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