Before the mounting use of social media, marketing managers warned: if customers have a good experience they’ll tell one person; if they have a bad one, they’ll tell 10. According to a new Pew study, Facebook users who share with a “Friends of Friends” feature enabled will explain their consumer experiences to a mean average of 156,569 people (2012). The less inflated median average is also far reaching, spreading across a network of 31,170 people through friends of friends. The study, combining server logs and survey data, proves that people who allow lax privacy settings for two degrees of separation have a voice that could carry across a population the size of Springfield, Mass. And that’s just Facebook. Anyone invested in a company’s reputation must understand the power participatory media affords consumers.
Naomi Gleit, Facebook product manager, announced the addition of the Friends of Friends privacy setting in March 2008. On an official Facebook blog post, Gleit said it’d allow users to share information with more people by tapping into the individuals people are connected to through their friends (2008). “We thought this provided a much needed option for people whose strongest social connections are not through the networks they’ve joined, but through the friends they’ve added,” said Gleit in her post. The new privacy setting was placed in the “How You Connect” configuration box, between “Public” and “Friends.”
We thought this provided a much needed option for people whose strongest social connections are not through the networks they’ve joined, but through the friends they’ve added.” Naomi Gleit, Facebook product manager
The number of people using social networking sites nearly doubled between 2008 and 2011, according to a Pew study published last summer (Hampton, Goulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011). In the sample of 2,255 adults, 79 percent of American adults said they used the Internet, of which 59 percent suggested they use at least one social networking site. Facebook is the top platform: 92 percent of users are on Facebook; 29 percent use MySpace, 18 percent use LinkedIn and 13 percent use Twitter. Pew also noted that the average age of adult users shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. More than half of all adult social media users are now over 35 years old. Adults between 35-54 exhibit the highest annual consumer expenditure rates, according to the most recent survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011).
Fortunately, positive experiences are also shared online, but at a lesser rate, according to a recent Temkin Group report (2011). The researchers reviewed how consumers give feedback by analyzing survey responses from 6,000 Americans. While 13 percent of the respondents said they had shared a good experience on Facebook, 20 percent of consumers admitted to sharing a bad experience. Social media marketing managers must not underestimate the potential reach of those using the new Friends of Friends privacy setting. Adverse consumer reactions that are confronted publicly must air positive solutions to negative experiences.
Personal experiences can carry through cyberspace with a thunderous voice. Customers who feel disconnected from a business after a bad experience may launch aggravated outbursts into social networks. Klout is a Web service growing in popularity, as a method to measure a person’s influence in social networks (2012). Klout algorithms generate a daily score from 1 to 100, based on a person’s ability to drive action in social networks. It’s becoming exceedingly important for marketing managers to regularly advertise online invitations for feedback in private areas, such as email messages, live chats and phone calls. Allowing access to a customer support system 24/7 will help prevent bad reviews from resonating in online social networks. Anticipate the needs of your customers. Forecast the issues that may surface after a transaction. Create methods to ease tensions during a disgruntled scramble for attention online.
Days after launching a new website, I started receiving Internet browser timeout errors. I had purchased shared server space from Hostway, which promises “our network will be available 100 percent of the time,” according to the Service Level Agreement (2012). After three days of tweaking back-end PHP codes and building front-end content, my site simply stopped loading. I went to the Hostway website and immediately found a “Live Chat” link in the top navigation bar. Within minutes, I was troubleshooting in real time with a customer support representative. He acknowledged the possibility of a server problem, and then submitted a trouble ticket to the “admin team.” The issue was resolved, privately (until now).
The representative sent a follow-up email two hours later explaining “a recent outage we have experienced with one of our database servers, which affected your website’s functionality.” He confirmed the servers’ renewed stability and encouraged further emails in the event that I continue to encounter slowdowns or down times.
Public battles in online social spheres can lead to new loyalties, as long as commendable solutions attract far more attention than frustrating problems. If a consumer issue stews in cyberspace for too long, lacking any praiseworthy support, a business will lose more than one customer’s satisfaction. The situation could influence purchase decisions for tens of thousands of friends of friends, possibly hundreds of thousands. It’s critical for consumers to quickly find customer support options online. If they turn to social networks, support representatives must respond fast and with empathy — humanize their business. In today’s consumer markets, business is social and customer satisfaction is highly shareable.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011, September 27). Age of reference person: Average annual expenditures and characteristics. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from U.S. Department of Labor: ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/ce/standard/2010/age.txt
Gleit, N. (2008, March 19). More Privacy Options. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from Facebook: https://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=11519877130
Hampton, K., Goulet, L.S., Marlow, C. & Rainie, L. (2012, February 3). Why most Facebook users get more than they give. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from Pew Internet & American Life Project: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2012/Facebook-users.aspx
Hampton, K., Goulet, L.S., Rainie, L. & Purcell, K. (2011, June 16). Social networking sites and our lives. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from Pew Internet & American Life Project: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-social-networks/Summary.aspx
Hostway. (2012). Service Level Agreement. Retrieved February 5, 2012, from Hostway: http://www.hostway.com/support/sla.html
Klout. (2012). Understanding Klout. Retrieved February 5, 2012, from Klout: http://klout.com/#/understand
Temkin Group. (2011, March). New Report: How Consumers Give Feedback. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from Consumer Experience Matters: http://experiencematters.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/new-report-how-consumers-give-feedback/