Is social media creating one helluva mess for your company?

Ms Single Mama recently left a post that got me thinking, and that should get the attention of every major company. She took her child to use the bathroom at her local Kroger, and was horrified at the condition she found it in. She took out her cellphone, snapped some quick photographic evidence, and then issued this challenge to her readers:

I have a challenge for you - because I have a bit of a rebellious spirit, if you hadn’t noticed, take a picture of your local grocery store bathroom and post it on your own blog or to your Twitter account (use your cell phone to take pictures).

This got me to thinking about what could happen next for Kroger (or any company that finds itself in a similar situation).

Bad scenario: MSM's idea goes viral on Twitter, and everyone starts posting Twitpics of horrible bathroom conditions at Kroger's around the country. #nastykrogerbathrooms becomes the top trending topic on Twitter, and Kroger finds out about this when the NYTimes calls for a comment.

Good scenario: Kroger posts in every bathroom their Twitter name, asking customers to contact them if they don't like the condition of the bathroom. Kroger then continues to monitor feedback on Twitter, and continues to improve.

The point is, your customers now have the tools to create content about you. Many have cellphones that can take pictures with them at all times. Some even can record video and stream that video INSTANTLY to the internet.

And thanks to social sites/networks like Twitter, they can mobilize and share information almost instantly. Paul created quite a stir with his Hurricane Kohls post from almost THREE years ago. That was back when most of you had never heard of Twitter. Imagine what could happen if that post had been left/tweeted today?

The bottom line is that thanks to social media, your customers can move and mobilize faster than your company can. Welcome to 2009.

posted by Mack Collier @ 11:55 AM,


At 2:41 PM, OpenID reichcomm said...

It's interesting, Mack. Many companies seem to respond faster to online or social media contact than by the old-fashioned phone call or letter. Probably they're realizing how quickly information can multiply and spiral out of their control.

The customer is finally gaining some control.

David Reich

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Joshua said...


People are always asking us at the agency how to control negative comments in the social space (they can't) and what a practical use of social media would be. I think you've given us a great example of turning potentially negative interactions into an opportunity to show you care


At 4:01 PM, Blogger Marina Martin said...

No company should encourage negative comments in a public, archived, searchable space when the alternative -- taking complains in private via a phone or email number *and actually acting on them -- means consumers can have an improved experience without tarnishing the brand name.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Sysgeneration said...

Mack great article, it's inspiring to know that such a great tool like the internet can have such a large impact on our everyday life experiences and help us to improve our overall enjoyment of places like grocery stores and shopping malls for example...could this lead to us actually using a public bathroom and for once having a clean seat and toilet paper to use ha ha!! Also congrats on the launch of your site, great news!!

At 6:33 PM, Blogger kandi111777 said...

I feel differently than Marina Martin. Companies need to realize that people are going to post negative comments in a public, archived, searchable space even if you give them the alternative of taking complaints in private via a phone or email number. The alternative that Mack has presented gives the company an opportunity to respond in the same public, archived, searchable space and show that they really care about their customers and how they are taking care of complaints.
You can not stop negative comments but you can certainly show your side.

At 9:09 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Martina and Kandi, I am a HUGE proponent of every company monitoring what's being said about them online. And their industry, their competitors, everything. Even moreso than using any form of social media. This post was just a reminder that if companies aren't monitoring, they can get in deep stank stank in a matter of minutes now. There's no time to stop and react to a crisis situation. If you aren't monitoring, by the time you realize there IS a situation, it's probably too late.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Scott Monty said...

Hey, here's an idea: how about Kroger posts a number you can text a complaint to? That way,
1. They get the feedback they need;
2. It's not a public rant;
3. They can respond to individuals;
4. They're using a more ubiquitous technology.

While I think public shaming or complaining can be effective at getting attention, if we're dreaming up a solution for a company like a Kroger, why not keep it simple and give consumers a chance to interact directly with the company? Especially when in your scenario they're carrying cellphones!

I would think that that it would be better to give the customer a direct outlet that would solve their problem would be better than giving them a public forum to vent.

Sometimes "social media" can be overkill.

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Stuart Foster said...

Simple, concise advice. Passing along to a few clients to reaffirm this point. Thanks Mack.

At 3:41 AM, Blogger DJ Waldow said...

Mack - This post coincides nicely with what Jason Baer (@jaybaer) just wrote: Why Social Media Helps the Rich Get Richer. This strategy only works if Kroger cares, right? If they are not customer-centric to begin with, they'll have a hard time responding appropriately.

Interested what you and others think on this take.

DJ Waldow

At 7:58 PM, OpenID thebrandbuilder said...

Awww man. Kroger could have so much fun addressing something like this. Fighting back with a) clean bathrooms and b) sharpies - leaving friendly notes on the wall of all of their bathrooms, just for Twitter troublemakers: "For a good time, follow @mackcollier. Oh, and he photographs bathrooms too." ;D

But first, they have to:

1. Be listening
2. Be prepared to act quickly (starting by accepting the criticism and addressing it - not arguing or finding excuses)
3. Develop a healthy sense of humor
4. Empower their response team (marketing, PR, Digital) to deal with the situation in a not-so-corporate manner. (Important tactical element in this space.)

Cool post.


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