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Social Media Carrot and Stick

by Randall Craig on March 22, 2012

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Management, Social Media

Tagged as: , , ,

While corporations are trying to figure out how to use the Social Media carrot to entice their customers to buy, their customers are using a powerful Social Media stick when it comes to expressing their disappointment and dissatisfaction.

In the olden days, corporate policy may have been the customer is always right. Today it is a bit different: no returns beyond 30 days, and no returns without the bill. At Costco, a ‘prison warden’ inspects your purchases and cash register tape before you can leave the premises. And if you wish to cancel your cell phone or internet service prepare to be soaked for hundreds of dollars. A wonderful corporate policy that assumes the customer is always wrong.

So it isn’t surprising, therefore, that customers are also developing “policy”: armed with smartphones with Facebook-a-ready, they are documenting, sharing, liking, commenting, and virally broadcasting their experience. Witness, several years ago when a sleeping TTC transit worker was caught sleeping on the job in his subway booth. Embarrassing for all concerned.

With this in mind, I found myself on the transit system recently where a simple question to a TTC subway operator was answered in a “non-customer-friendly” and nonsensical way.  Here’s the dilemma: do you record the event on your smartphone? Do you take a picture of the offending employee? Or do you do nothing?

In this particular case I took a picture, but decided not to publish it. With 10K + readers of this blog, the “slap” of public embarrassment for the operator would (in my judgement) be excessive.

On the other hand, other people may have different judgement. This is why customer service and Social Media training for all employees is so critical. It’s not just the CEO and the PR person who “speak” for the organization – all employees do. And those on the front line will always be held accountable in the court of public Social Media opinion.

Today, we find that policies designed to protect the organization (“The customer is always wrong“) have whittled away loyalty so much that it isn’t surprising that customers are so easily wielding their Social Media stick.

Hint to Corporate America: fixing your real-world problems must happen in the real world. Investing in Social Media in order to build loyalty can only go so far, when front-line staff or the policies they enforce are idiotic, unfeeling, or disrespectful. (This brings to mind the idea of putting Social Media lipstick on a pig; in the end, no matter how much you put on, it’s still a pig…)

This week’s action plan: As an individual, how strong a stick do you wield? And do you also wield carrots? As an organization, how much easier would your Social Media strategy be if you weren’t fighting a rearguard action due to poorly thought-through real-world policies and practices. This week, spend some time on the front-lines thinking like a customer…with a smartphone.

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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