Written by: Oskar Leander
Abstract. The walls of Facebook have become the modern tool for complaining in public, and it has the potential of reaching much further than pre-social media times. Consumers are now much more empowered than before and the question is then how companies should use this power best. Because the fact is that people will talk about your brand. Is really all attention such as public complaints good for the brand? Are there different ways of tackling this issue?
The wailing walls of Facebook
The western wall, or Kotel in Jerusalem is a very holy place for several different faiths. It’s sometimes, a bit derogatory referred to as the wailing wall (Wikipedia, 2016). Thus called because people go there to publicly weep over the destruction of temples that used to occupy the site. This post is about a more recent, digital wall where people go to cry (and complain) publicly. Not over something as serious as the destruction of a holy site, though in today’s consumption society, brands are almost sacred.
Most of us follow one or more of our favourite brands on Facebook or other social networks (InSites Consulting, 2011). There is an abundance of social networks out there and we interact with and use each one differently. One example is the photo sharing network Instagram, the most popular social network when it comes to following and researching brands, here users can find updated pictures from their favourite companies. Facebook is the biggest social network out there, with over 1 billion users (Noyes, 2015). Although we don’t use Facebook mainly to interact with brands (GlobalWebIndex, 2015), many of us do. But have you ever considered why you follow a certain company or brand on Facebook? One reason seems to be that brand Facebook pages are perfect for complaining. They have become public wailing walls where we can voice our frustration (or appreciation) with the services of the company in question, and it is open for all to read.
Today, basically all companies have a Facebook page (Karr, 2014). There are several reasons for this, e.g. to collect valuable market data from users’ posts and to let consumers interact with each other (Yadav et al., 2013). It’s also a great way to promote your products and services and increase brand awareness (Pereira et al., 2014). Anyone is free to “like” the company’s page on Facebook, thus becoming a fan, and is then able to write on their “wall”. The fan can now choose to share her or his experience or thoughts about the company on Facebook where other fans are free to read and comment. This interactivity between consumers and other consumer as well as consumers and the brand itself has changed the role of the consumer from passive receiver to possible creator of content with the ability to share, comment, persuade and dissuade peers (Berton et al., 2012; Fournier & Avery, 2011; Christodoulides, 2009; Malthouse et al., 2013).
This makes it very difficult for brand managers to keep control of the public image of the brand. They are no longer the masters of the brand, able to create a specific image and subdue any diverging opinion (Christodoulides, 2009). Even if they would choose not to have a presence on Facebook, there is nothing to stop someone else from creating an unofficial page for any brand, thus causing even further loss of control for the brand manager (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
When a company makes the decision to start up their Facebook page, they need to be aware that they open up a channel where fans and haters can and will share their opinions with each other. Mostly they will share stories of the brand after having either a very positive or very negative experience with it (Gensler et al., 2013). However, in what Fournier and Avery (2013) calls The Age of Criticism “negative critiques are inherently interesting and shareable”, clearly pinpointing the problem that may arise. Negative comments are just more interesting to read and share! So, even though brand Facebook walls are used for several reasons, I’ll focus on the its use as a public place for voicing complaints.
Tradera and Amazon – Two answers to wailing walls
The Facebook pages of Swedish online auction powerhouse Tradera with more than 80,000 followers and Global retailing giant Amazon with its over 26 million followers are two examples of the wailing walls of Facebook. However, they have two very different approaches to managing their presence on the social network.
Both Amazon and Tradera interact and moderate their walls rather than acting purely as observers, which is not recommended as that would mean losing control completely (Gode et al., 2005). Using a brand page on Facebook is an effective way of influencing customers’ evaluations of the brand and it is even more important for companies that depend on indirect distribution (Malthouse et al., 2013), such as an auction house.
Many of Tradera’s fans are trying to get in touch with customer service through Facebook, in spite of the company’s clear policy of only responding to complaints by chat service on their website (Tradera.se, 2016). This leads to Tradera giving a standard answer recommending their fans to contact the official customer service chat – no matter what the question or complaint is. In many cases the next step is that the users complain about the lack of personalized answers, this can go on and on – and the wailing wall is in full effect. The opportunity created by social media according to Malthouse et al. (2013) – to collect useful information and create brand supporters by listening to and interacting with their customers – is squandered by Tradera. However, since they are adamant about keeping this course, perhaps their customers will some day learn – they won’t get an answer on Facebook (but they will form an opinion of the brand based on others’ complaints). Either way, Tradera aren’t really breaking any customer promises, they are actually delivering on their promise to only offer customer support by live chat.
The way that Amazon uses their Facebook wall differs quite a bit. It is just as full of complaints as Tradera’s. Regardless of what the company is trying to promote, the comments section is full of complaints about unrelated issues. Here, someone from Amazon is working hard to give somewhat personalized answers within an hour to most comments. This, in turn, means that their customers will continue to post complaints and expecting quick answers on Facebook, instead of using the official customer service channels offered by Amazon. The consumers that do get personalized answers may get a positive view of the company, as they satisfy the users need to express and reinforce their individuality as well as their social needs (Christodoulides, 2009). Answering each complaint on Facebook seems to be a very cost effective and public way of personalization and thus creating brand supporters.
The way to the perfect wall
Social media has been around for a while; Facebook celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year! But old marketing truths still rule the game today and perhaps companies don’t need to change their entire playbook just to stay relevant and in control of their brand reputation online. Both Amazon and Tradera are exploiting social media opportunities in different ways, which for them comes natural as they were born online. Barwise & Mehaan (2010) writes that the focus should always be on meeting consumers’ needs while protecting the reputation of the brand. Amazon chose to be a very active participant in their consumers’ discussions on Facebook and it works for them, surely they gain many insights that traditional marketing research might not have discovered. Tradera on the other hand protect their brand by meeting the needs of their customers’ on another platform. They have both rather successfully adapted marketing efforts on social media to suit their needs. The wailing on Facebook walls may be working in their favour – as they use this consumer generated content for their own benefit.
Is there a golden road to follow when deciding on how to manage your brand on Facebook? I don’t think so. Instead each company has to adjust their strategy to what they want to get out of their social media existence. While companies are still in the early phases of being active on Facebook and other social media, they should use these first and foremost to gain customer insights – not to sell (Barwise & Mehaan, 2010). Since Facebook is not mainly a website for selling and buying, but for socializing, that’s exactly how you should use it – to socialize. The users of Facebook have rejected attempts to use the site as a store before, such as the “sponsored store” cancelled the company settling several law suits and agreeing to give more control of shared content to its users (Guarini, 2014). To be honest, we as users don’t have much control of how Facebook decides to use our input. But, if we don’t like it we can always complain, and to do so publicly is now so much easier than before – the power really has shifted to the consumers.
Other social media
Facebook is just one of many social media platforms out there, it is the biggest one, but depending on what you want to communicate, there may be better options out there. Twitter, with its limitation of 140 characters per message, is also used by both Tradera and Amazon and is likewise filled with consumer stories – both praise and complaints. The limitations of Twitter means the messages here must be more direct, but with 2,25 million followers, Amazon has quite the powerful marketing tool here as well.
Instagram is limited to images and short descriptions with hashtags. A quick look at Amazon’s account with over 400 thousand followers reveals that it’s not the place where consumers go to complain. Of course the amount of followers here is nothing compared to the over 25 million on Facebook, perhaps this relates back to negative comments being more interesting!
Brand managers are still needed
Perhaps the most important lesson for marketing managers operating in this new web 2.0 reality is to be open for change, quickly changing whatever doesn’t work and develop the things that do work. As consumers gain power, it is also balanced by a certain degree of disempowerment (Labrecque et al., 2013), as we are reduced to our online profiles. So the profession of managing companies’ brands is still needed, it has merely evolved along with everything else!
So, if your company is on Facebook and your wall is being used by the fans mainly for complaining, a wailing wall, don’t fret. It means you have engaged fans and all you have to do is listen to them and try to stay engaged, controlling the conversations as best you can.
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” - Oscar Wilde,
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