When twitter turns on you

TA when twitter turns on you

Like it, love it or hate it, social media is part of life. So much so that mainstream media report on trends and activity happening on it to their audiences, almost in real time. BBC News had posted a story about the social media backlash received by Sainsbury’s after changes to their meal deal within hours of the start of the storm.

Recently Target PR’s Maddy Gayfer blogged about Virgin Trains’ delayed response to Jeremy Corbyn. In this blog I am looking at how brands can best respond to customers. Although Virgin was able to wait, companies facing a social media storm cannot, and while responding is important, it is better to engage.

Complaining on social media can be very effective as your gripe can become public, and if others have had similar experiences, momentum can be gained at pace. It also means that brands need to respond more positively than if they were dealing with an email or a letter.

September 2016 saw Sainsbury’s supermarket make some changes to their popular lunchtime meal deal that left social media users fuming. Let’s put this in perspective – a long running discount when you buy a sandwich, drink and packet of crisps has been altered slightly. So this is not a major problem or failure by the supermarket giant, and they have responded appropriately.

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While this response is good – each customer is being replied to in a suitable manner, politely and factually – it does little to engage with the disgruntled customers. The truth is that Sainsbury’s have improved both the quality and value, but when you make changes like this to something loved and relied upon by (so it would seem) thousands of regular customers, the response needs to acknowledge this and maybe go further to reassure.

So what could Sainsbury’s do better? I’m not about to advise them on how to run their social media, but what I will do is point towards two examples of companies that have reacted and engaged in very different ways.

Firstly, the Nook Neighbourhood Café in Stockport has received some less-than-favourable reviews on Tripadvisor, but rather than let them be a negative, the café owner, Arlo, has turned them into a marketing campaign. By using his pavement blackboard sign, the shrewd operator has invited passers-by to ‘Come in and try the worst porridge that one woman on TripAdvisor had in her life’.

The signs have proved incredibly popular, and other quotes have included ‘The finest (undercooked) porridge in town’ and ‘Come into our cafe that Gary from TripAdvisor said was “small and cramped”. We’re called Nook, for a reason Gary.’

Turning a negative into a positive is a brilliant move, and one that in this instance has worked, but possibly on a large scale would be less effective.

Another winner is the excellent twitter team from mobile phone network O2. Earlier this year I was lucky enough to listen to social media manager Bradley Tooth explaining how his team goes above and beyond the call of duty on twitter.

O2 knows that its rival, Vodafone, operates its twitter account between 8am and 8pm, so they monitor it after 8pm. On the day of last year’s iPhone release, they replied to each and every Vodafone customer who tweeted after 8pm and directed them to their nearest O2 store, with helpful advice and answers to all questions that they could answer. The result was the biggest iPhone sales figures ever seen by O2.

The firm has also taken to monitoring the rival account during operating hours. When they saw the company decline to provide a visiting Comic Con speaker from Canada a UK SIM card, they jumped in and said they would. Realising that the speaker was due to arrive in two days, they couldn’t ship the SIM to her, so instead arranged a care package to be waiting at the airport with the SIM card.

So in the #MealDeal uproar, what did Sainsbury’s do wrong? In essence, nothing; but they could have engaged more dynamically with their audience. Rather than tweaking a stock response to each individual, engaging with them by inviting further comments, or asking what particular element they missed the most could have given them valuable customer feedback for future sandwich developments.

Additionally, they could have taken the opportunity to invite other twitter users to let them know what they love about the new range, hopefully turning the perceived negative into a positive story celebrating the new flavours.

They made a business decision to change a long-standing offer, and are dealing with the social backlash. When something loved by many changes, there will be a backlash, but if the quality genuinely has improved, time will tell and I’m sure their customers will come around to the new tastes.

Hopefully, given time, they will (as they say) taste the difference.

Toby Aiken

Account Director