Alienating customers can happen in lightening speed with the popularity of social media websites. Being a part of websites like Facebook and Twitter means that your page will be viewed by millions of people, your brand will be recognized and your capital should increase as a result. Information and opinions spread much faster on social networking sites than other media outlets. In an instant, groups can be formed, pages made and campaigns created, in favor of or against, any topic. Users can Instant Message and group chat with one another within seconds of an event. They don’t even have to be home. Consumers now have the ability to tap into their cell phones and use applications to access their accounts from anywhere.
What does that mean? It means that your company image is more important than ever. It is important that your company or brand maintains customer loyalty because if you disappoint enough of your customers you are sure to hear about it and so will millions of other Facebook, MySpace and Twitter users.
The power of a disgruntled social networker is clearly illustrated in the case of Whole Foods and its CEO John Mackey. How can one unhappy person create a complete PR disaster for a giant corporation like Whole Foods? Simply by using Facebook.
It all began when CEO John Mackey was offered the opportunity to submit an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal. It was supposed to be about the generous healthcare plan he implemented for Whole Foods employees. Had it been written correctly the piece would have been an excellent opportunity that would have improved the public’s perceptions of the company; however, Mackey used the opportunity voice his controversial opinion on healthcare.
The piece was read throughout the country because it was published in the popular Wall Street Journal. This combined with the popularity of social media websites created a PR meltdown. Angry Whole Foods customers used Facebook to set up the group “Boycott Whole Foods,” which consists of tens of thousands of members.
What made them so disgruntled was what Mackey wrote. Members of the Facebook group claim that Mackey quoted Margaret Thatcher suggesting that healthcare is something only the rich, like him, deserve. I think it’s safe to assume that the majority of Whole Foods shoppers are not as rich as Mackey, and do not agree or wish to endorse his beliefs.
It is important to utilize social media because it is a market that cannot be ignored; however, it is also important that you take it very seriously. Here is one case where you can look to politicians for guidance. Avoid talking about controversial topics and/or issues, especially if you have an important role in your company. Even if the majority may agree with your point of view, you still risk losing some customers. Use your PR opportunities to spread the good word about your company and inform consumers of what new features or products you have to offer, but leave the controversial stuff at home.