A few weeks ago we lifted the lid on some notable hashtag disasters that went down on Twitter over the past couple of months. As embarrassing as these were for the brands involved, by and large they were caused by internet naivety rather than genuine poor customer service, and as such the lasting damage was little more than a spot of wounded pride…. And the odd irreverent blog post.
Recently, however, there have been a spate of far more serious lapses in twit-judgement – ones that have generated real anger and resentment towards the brands in question and will take a lot longer to erase from internet memory. These episodes involve a brand being willfully obstinate and refusing to engage with the public over points of grievance, all ending in disastrous results…
The first instance involves the major gym operator LA Fitness, who recently found themselves at the centre of a public relations nightmare after The Guardian publicised the story of one of the gym’s former members who had fallen on hard times.
The member in question was a woman eight months pregnant, who had just moved to a house 12 miles away from the gym and whose husband had just been made redundant. The couple had been members of the gym for six years, but with the change in circumstances they simply couldn’t afford to maintain their payments. LA Fitness didn’t accept the excuse, and demanded a cancellation fee of £360 (even after much haranguing by the Guardian).
The result? The full force of the newspaper’s readership attacking LA Fitness publicly on Twitter, along with a campaign for existing members to cancel their membership as protest. Eventually the company relented, but not after untold amounts of damage to their public image and lost membership revenue. Not a good look for their social media team…
The second two instances are remarkably similar, which would suggest brands aren’t learning from each other’s mistakes. Within the space of a month, both H&M and Claire’s Accessories were accused of plagiarism over products sold in their stores. In both cases the companies feigned ignorance, with Claire’s going one step further and making the shocking decision to go on full media blackout. Needless to say, this did not help their situation.
The result? Again, a torrent of incredibly public abuse and complaints leveled at each brand for all to see on Twitter, not to mention coverage of the situation in untold national newspapers and media outlets. H&M eventually acknowledged their wrongdoing and agreed to a profit-sharing deal with the artist in question. The Claire’s Accessories debate is ongoing…
So what can brands learn from the online spills of these three companies? Above all, that in this modern age of digital conversation and increasingly transparent communication, good customer service must remain a priority. One disgruntled user can very quickly become an army of righteous indignation, and there is no telling how far things might spiral out of control if handled badly.
As a brand, your reputation is paramount; strip that away and your are simply trading air. With that in mind, keep your friends close, and your Twitter followers closer!