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Consumers vs. Social Media

The flyer felt affronted upon being corrected by a lowly staff member, put others and his own self in jeopardy by being careless on the tarmac, slapped and shoved the Airline staff only to get pinned down by the ill trained handlers, told them to FO and then went on to divide the society along the class lines.

We all sat on judgment in our Social Media gravatars, pronouncing punishments, seeking for heads to roll, tsk-tsking about what the world had come to be. Some of us, in class affinity with Katyal, felt we could be next to face such rowdy ruthless treatment by an Airline, despite no fault of ours. After all, we from certain strata of society have the privilege of throwing an expletive on those below us or treating them as s*** and getting away with our ways because you know, as the saying goes in Delhi and large parts of North India, “Do you know who I am?”

Only a really tiny percentage of sensible, educated people who couldn’t care less about TRPs and a populist vote spoke about how wrong Katyal was in standing close to a Plane’s wing and in throwing a tantrum on the tarmac – something that could have brought in grave tragedy which is what the unfortunately boorish staff was more maniacal about, to begin with. Eventually, after the identified slacker and instigator from the Airline staff was terminated and the Indigo honcho gave an apology, the dust settled over our Social media universe and peace returned to our personal worlds till the time we were ready for the next virtual battle.

Another Hotel friend tells me how guests threaten to write a bad review on Social Media to wangle a discount or an additional service or even a complimentary stay. There are Zomato stories of low ratings to get a free pizza or a meal comped off. Earlier the customer was considered king, but with the opportunity of being seen and heard on social media he is threatening to be the Emperor Royal, demanding his word to be the last. Having said that, Social media and its role in offering redressal is a boon in cases of App-based businesses that run on and through social media. Hotel and restaurant booking sites, transportation companies like Ola and Uber come to mind.

Still, success is not easy to beget. The resident enfant terrible cum niece uses the two cab services for her daily commute to work and comes back with strangely harrowing tales of how unresponsive, careless and untrained the Ola or Uber support hubs or Twitter handle managers or backhand Navigating teams are. They will stubbornly not respond to even genuine complaints, if they do come back then it is with the standard, silly, scripted response that may have no bearing to the complaint and when they do offer a quick fix, it is so ludicrously paltry and inconsequentially unapologetic that it puts off the customer even more.

But given all the parameters, Social media is still one hell of a great tool to draw attention to issues and causes and get solution for them. Swapan Seth, an owner of an Advertising Agency was exasperated with Urban Ladder – the online Furniture company. He unsubscribed himself unsuccessfully about 17 times from their mailing list but the plight of spamming continued. He then took to Twitter to send an acerbic message, in English and in Swahili to drive the sarcasm home, asking them to get their act together. He got a response almost immediately promising him action.

In another case, a friend has sought out help with Hitachi’s poor service and mashed up job, by putting up her grievance on Facebook. Help in terms of advice, contact names and numbers are pouring in from real and virtual pals.

A journalist friend opined that with consumers running to the Social media to complain in a free-wheeling manner – both in the right and wrong instances – it would cause a lot of public-shaming for the brands. Professional Outfits such as ReviewPro are offering tutorials to companies on how to handle negative reviews and productively manage their online ratings and reputation. And rightly so!

Yet, in a laughably landmark episode in 2014, the Blackpool, UK based Broadway Hotel charged Tony and Jan Jenkinson, a TripAdvisor reviewing couple from Cumbria £100 as fine for the bad review. Apparently the hotel had a printed policy on the matter, which it flashed to the guests as a diktat. While the fine was later refunded, I think, a precedent, however preposterous it may sound now, has been set. Read more about the Blackpool case [ here ]

In another example, and as a nightmare to what ReviewPro exhorts, Paul Chatwin, the owner of Royal Clarence Hotel in Burnham-on-Sea, a 3 star establishment in Somerset, has taken to responding to each bad review on TripAdvisor with his characteristically hilarious rude replies. In a surprise move, the guests who like his hotel – and it is a higher percentage than those who do not – commend his honesty and find it an appreciable trait. Still, as a brand owner doing a Chatwin on your detractors is only for the brave hearts who can take it on the chin each time. But I would not recommend it at all as a normal practice. Read about Paul Chatwin’s rude replies [ here ]

Social media excesses of a consumer cannot be dealt with in a similar manner. At least one party must be more mature, meditated, calm and collected, and judicious in its approach. And more often than not, that must be the brand and the brand owner.

Himmat Anand, the Founder of the handpicked jewel-like Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels, puts it very succinctly when he says, “What we see happening today is only the beginning of the use / misuse of social media. Traditional platforms like TripAdvisor will have to change their model soon or face extinction because every traveller considers himself/herself an expert and unlike earlier, has multiple platforms to express his appreciation or frustration. The good thing is that with an explosion of posts and opinions, memory is short. What a guest writes today is forgotten tomorrow. So unless a hotel messes up day after day, I doubt that the occasional negative post has any major impact on brand positioning.”

While majoring in Psychology, we were taught how Power, Leadership and Control were the three bases on which every kind of human behaviour rested and sprung from. With Social media platforms available to us to voice out, put our asked for or unsolicited opinion on, rant at large; we feel a sense of unmitigated power and unhinged control over things that effect us or even those that are of no concern but we must still jump in with our two cents. Somewhere down the line, we are losing the grip on equivalence and justness. But you know what; we are painting a Dirty Picture for ourselves. As not just consumer of brands but of society at large, we are messing it up in real and on Social media.

The most recent incident involving Film Actor Anushka Sharma and Indian Cricketer Virat Kohli shaming an affluent bloke travelling in a luxury sedan yet shamelessly littering the Mumbai streets is a sharp case in point. To add insult to injury, the unrepentant, brazen fella calls the star and the cricketer ugly names when pulled up publicly for his uncouth act. He then, even more outrageously, goes out to play an uglier match on the Social media. The Anushka Sharma and the Littering Lout Social Media Wrangle

And that is us today, in a nutshell. The war is on. Go check your Social media feeds!

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L. Aruna Dhir
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.

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2 CONVERSATIONS

  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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