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 ]