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Consumers vs. Social Media

What And When To Rant On Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor & Linkedin

I think in the ever-evolving, overly technocratic yet exceedingly humanized world, the best thing that happened to us was, undoubtedly, the birth of Internet in the early 90s. It shrunk the world, blurred the boundaries and brought everything closer home.

The second best thing to have happened to the increasingly consumerized world was the advent of Social Media about a little more than a decade later. With the appearance of Facebook we all became kings and queens of our personal fiefdoms. With Twitter, our levels of temptation went right back to the level that began it all at the Garden of Eden. With little thought or concern we are gnawingly biting into the apple (pun intended) in our hand. And with WhatsApp, we have the perspicacity and penchant to drive our noses in every business – ours or others – wherever a two inch and a quarter apparatus will wedge in.

In the hands of wise common folk, thought leaders, opinion makers, influencers it is all good and hopefully sane. However, when we hit the realm of the unwise and not so prudent, mature and stable, I feel the beatific and wondrous social media in our hands is like a big bunch of bananas in the hands of a monkey – too much of a good thing that will do terrible things to our tummy.

I have two visions when I think of Social Media vis-à-vis us. In the hands of wise common folk, thought leaders, opinion makers, influencers it is all good and hopefully sane. However, when we hit the realm of the unwise and not so prudent, mature and stable, I feel the beatific and wondrous social media in our hands is like a big bunch of bananas in the hands of a monkey – too much of a good thing that will do terrible things to our tummy. The other vision I increasingly get, seeing all the temper, rage, tantrum, ego, power play flash across the various forums, is that of a monkey with a wrench. If the monkey is trained and composed, he will get some good work done. If not, then he will simply play dangerously with the wrench chucking it high up in the air, catching it sometimes but mostly having it land perilously on his crown to much pain and discomfort. And that pretty much surmises how a lot of us mishandle social media. Of particular concern is our mismanagement of this wonderful tool in relation to our equation with brands and the purveyors of those brands.

I hail from the hospitality industry – an industry that is of the people, by the people and for the people like no other. With the emergence of platforms such as TripAdvisor, the guests – as consumers are traditionally called – are taking to the medium with a vengeance.

A Facebook friend, Sanjay Austa runs a lovely resorty cottage called Meena Bagh in Shimla, which he lovingly built brick by brick and opened a year and a half back. It is a rather beautiful place that transports you to the La La Land. Recently, a Delhi family of nine, together with their ill-mannered and badly behaved brood stayed at the Cottage, running amuck and trashing the place in unimaginably deplorable ways. They even decided to walk away with some knick-knacks and ornamental items from the Cottage. Now, I am no stranger to such guest behaviour. Once while with The Imperial, we were regaled about an East European guest who stuffed his suitcases with bespoke, expensive cut glass and crystal vases and bowls from his suite on his departure. The Housekeeping obviously found out, tip-toed around the issue, alarmed the Duty Manager who alerted and enlisted support of the Senior Management at hand. The guest was confronted as courteously as possible given the situation, and requested to check out without decamping with the loot. The guest, who had been caught red-handed, in turn mumbled something incoherent to escape the embarrassing event and beat a hasty retreat. Social media had not quite set in then.

Going back to the Meena Bagh story, when confronted, the “leading” lady kept dangling the INR 45000 price tag attached to their two-night stay for everything – from stealing stuff from the property to intimidating the caretaker and other gentle hill staff to damaging the place that has been carefully maintained.

Because an exposé of sorts had happened on ground (and the staff had enough proof to support their complaint and claim), the lady of the pack felt humiliated and disrespected and initially refused to pay up. Upon insistence from the Manager, the bills were settled but the lady found her ego so badly bruised that she decided to take out her ire on social media. She wrote a scathing review on that holy grail-ish review aggregator TripAdvisor!  The Owner of the cottage felt that he and his hill home had been wronged and decided to call out the guest and her false review. Austa steeled himself up, given that he is in the business of hospitality, but responded to the review point by point describing in detail just how rapaciously his cottage had been ruined, also letting the guest know that pictures had been taken to chronicle exactly what they had done. And he countered, with wit and a sense of repartee, on the same public platform leaving no scope for conjecture and shady comebacks.

I spoke to Sanjay about dealing with such guests from hell and about the role of Social Media in this. To the first he said he was saddened to see that some guests were using social media as a terror tactic. ‘If you do not let us be or if you do not offer us a discount or if you do not meet our unrealistic demand, then we will give you a bad rating or write an unfavourable review,’ seems to be the threat loomed out. Thankfully brands and brand owners are wisening up to this and ill-intentioned customers will not be able to engage in this dirty trick, for long. The other laudable thing that came out in this incident was that TripAdvisor weighed both sides of the story and decided to bring down the negative review since it lacked authenticity and only stemmed out of a personal grouse.

THE MEENA BAGH, SHIMLA CASE STUDY

Because we can easily air our opinions on Social Media, because we can approach just that right person sitting in the headquarters without much effort unlike earlier times, because we can shoot and upload videos and photos to be viewed by the world at large, because we get our fragile egos easily battered and can set out with so much ease to seek revenge using Twitter or TripAdvisor or Zomato to ruin painstakingly built reputations, we, as customers, are losing a sense of fairness and balance. Remember that monkey with the wrench! Many times he gets it right and employs the wrench effectively but several other times, he ends up either hurting others or getting a bump on his own head.

No brand worth its salt and backing of a strong brand reputation built on customer trust and gained over years of existence will want to destroy it by offering bad products and shoddy service.

No brand worth its salt and backing of a strong brand reputation built on customer trust and gained over years of existence will want to destroy it by offering bad products and shoddy service. Yes glitches happen. Sometimes more than what should be permissible. Yet no brand – be it a can of Cola, or a shoe maker or a safety pin company, a hotel, a swish eating out place, heck even a local Dhaba, a pharma firm, Country’s leading Atta maker, a Toilet Roll manufacturer or any other product manufacturer or service provider – will want to dish out faulty products and poor service.

For companies it means a double loss – first in manufacturing or in service delivery, then in the ad spends and marketing budgets – if they get the main crux wrong and platter out the wrong deal to the customer.

With Social Media becoming the new age Consumer Courts, but much more efficient and timely and consumer centric than what the CC’s ever were, the brands hang by a thin thread lest they be crucified on YouTube or roasted on Twitter. Sometimes issues get kicked up into a huge storm and attract a large number of eyeballs and reactions. Remember the case of Mr. Katyal vs. Indigo Airlines that happened towards the end of last year? [ Here’s that episode ]

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L. Aruna Dhirhttp://www.larunadhir.blogspot.com
L. Aruna Dhir is a Hospitality & Feature Writer and Columnist for some of the world’s highest-ranked Hospitality publications. Her industry writings are syndicated to the finest global hospitality bodies and used as references in case studies and hotel schools. Aruna runs an exclusive channel on the award-winning media digest, BizCatalyst 360° called “Hospitality Matters” based on her hospitality industry insight and commentary. Aruna is a recognized and national-poll winning Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist, and Writer. A seasoned hotelier, Aruna loves to present hospitality industry watch, insights, case studies, and analysis to her ever-increasing base of global readership. Aruna has over two decades of experience in Hospitality Communications and Brand Management and has worked with some of the best global hotel companies. In her last corporate role, Aruna was the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, where she was part of the core group and was responsible for re-launching The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in India and Asia. Aruna’s hotel experience includes leading the Marketing Communications and Public Relations portfolio for flagship properties at The Oberoi Group and Hyatt International. She also helped launch the Vilases as the uber-luxury experiences from the Oberoi stable. As an industry expert, Aruna has launched brands, developed training modules, created standardization dockets on business communication, written manuals, conducted Image Study & Positioning Analysis, and led media campaigns of Australian Ministers in India. Aruna Dhir’s successful work tenure with Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in India in the capacity of Media Relations Officer, saw her working on a host of never-done-before exciting projects including the hugely rewarding organisation of Australia-India New Horizons – Australia’s largest ever Country Promotion. Aruna Dhir is the first-ever Creative Writer for the Indian greeting cards giant – ARCHIES Greetings and Gifts Ltd. The milestone puts her in the league of Helen Steiner Rice and Amanda Bradley. While with the company she came out with several series of cards sold under her byline – an unprecedented feat that has not been repeated since. L. Aruna Dhir also dabbles in poetry and has to her credit two titles of Anthologies published and marketed by Archies G&G Ltd. Aruna serves on the Board of Association of Emerging Leaders Dialogues (AELD), a front-running Commonwealth Body that works towards developing leaders and influencers of tomorrow, with Princess Anne as its international President. Aruna has been engaged in freelance work for Doordarshan – the Indian National Television, All India Radio, and Times FM. Academically, L. Aruna Dhir topped at the All-India level in her PG Diploma in Public Relations and Advertising. Aruna has been a Ph.D. scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, akin to an Ivy League in India. She has earned a Senior Management Course Certification from the Oberoi Centre for Learning & Development in partnership with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow; V Dimension Management Company, London & Asian Institute of Management, Manila, Philippines. Aruna Dhir has represented India to a select group of opinion-makers in the United States, as a Cultural Ambassador under the GSE Program of Rotary International. She has also participated in the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference held in Australia and chaired by Princess Anne. Aruna is a Life Member of the Public Relations Society of India A Freelance Writer since 1987, with articles that have appeared in India’s topmost newspapers and magazines, Aruna is also a blogger, a memoirist with works published on platforms like Medium and a Book reviewer on Goodreads. In her official and personal capacity L. Aruna Dhir has and continues to work on several social awareness projects – People for Animals, Earthquake Relief, National Blind Association, PETA, WSPA, Change.org, Friendicoes to name a few. Born at Allahabad (now Prayagraj), one of the world’s oldest known cities, L. Aruna Dhir grew up and did her schooling in Dehradun, regarded as a prominent seat of academia and literature. After being brought up in the sylvan surroundings of the verdant Doon valley, Aruna chose to make the Capital City of Delhi her second home.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Fortunately, the number of people that write an unreasonably negative post on TripAdvisor (and other such sites) is pretty small. Many use TripAdvisor as a major source of information when picking a hotel or restaurant, and justifiably so. Christina is a major writer on that site and has a following of over 60,000. With that kind of influence, she is very careful in making negative comments and always tries to balance those with something good. I think most people can tell a truthful post from one that is an unreasonable rant. One of my pet peeves relative to management responses is the infamous “canned” response. Very obvious and very phony. It simply says “yea, yea, we don’t really care”.

    • Hello Ken! The internet and these sites are teeming with people who will run to write a negative comment at the drop of a hat. Most hoteliers rue the lurking of such pestful behaviour.

      Having said that, I agree there are many established influencers like Christina who will say it how it is and not really “do-in” a brand just to get a discount or arm twist.

      And yes, in this duel, the only thing as bad as a false and negative review put up with an ulterior motive is a Brand’s cookie cutter. bot like response, which like you say, states ‘we really don’t care.’

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