Can Brands Turn Away From Social and Get You to Communicate Directly Through Their Own Channels?

There’s certainly been a backlash against social media, not just here in the U.S. because of electoral politics. There’s a tendency for niche groups to find each other, and find comfort, through the internet. Instead of having to blend in to location-based communities, it’s possible to find like-minded groups all over the world. And it’s possible to turn that into an echo chamber where we tune out those who disagree with us, and amplify the loudest voices of agreement. That breaks down traditional politeness. Some find solace in that and others frustration.

At the same time companies are frustrated dealing with social platforms, too. They used to invest heavily in building bases of followers, thinking it would pay marketing dividends for years to come. I remember airlines giving out miles just for following them on twitter or Facebook. What they didn’t realize at the time but seems obvious in hindsight is that it’s tough to make money long term on someone else’s platform. Instead of having an annuity stream of permission-based marketing, those followers are no longer free to communicate to. Platforms can charge to get a message out to followers companies have already paid to accumulate.

Meanwhile the tone of online conversation can be both negative and overwhelming. It’s tough to break through the clutter. Responding to criticisms online can be like Nozick’s proverbial glass of orange juice poured into the ocean. It doesn’t turn the ocean orange.

One company has just declared they’re going to do something about it. Via TravelZork, a UK cosmetics company has announced on twitter that they’re no longer going to participate on Twitter or other social platforms. Instead customer service will be through their own channels only (phone, email and live chat on their website). Oddly they say that’s because they “don’t want to limit ourselves to holding conversations in one place.”

I get the desire but ultimately I think you invest in communicating with your customers where they are. It’s only the largest brands that we interact with directly on a regular basis that can really get away with this, I think.

Customers will talk about their experiences with companies whether companies are part of the conversation or not. They may not have to provide customer service via social channels, but ignoring the conversation seems perilous.

Many brands find it effective to be on twitter if only to quickly flag complaints and get users to take those complaints to direct message rather than continuing a barrage of negative criticism. Ignoring social complaints means not being able to stop the complaining early. At a minimum it seems wise to subscribe to a tool like Dataminr and respond to things that are going to be stories before they’re stories.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Airlines have pigeon-holed us in two ways that I can think of. One, Twitter is where they tend to respond far faster. Two, if you’re in-air (or taxiing), Twitter is the only way to get anything close to real-time support, at least for the airlines I interact with.

    I’d be more than happy to keep my gripes between me and the airline, but they incentive us to use the public forum.

  2. Unless you have status the phone support of the US majors and even Intl carriers is abysmal. I was able to get expired miles re-instated for myself and partner on a legacy carrier with a couple of tweets. That would have taken an hour on the phone at least.

  3. Airlines shouldn’t be looking at social media as a revenue generator, if they’re viewing it only as such. If it’s solely or mostly used as a customer service vehicle then I’d say they’re doing very well using a free support product. Most companies pay much more than free for a customer service product.

  4. I think companies are finally starting to learn that they can’t win on social media. No matter what they post, it’s going to piss off half their customers, snowflakes will demand a safespace, liberals with feign outrage, whatever lives matter groups will demand a boycott, granola eaters will throw fake blood, the list goes on…

    I will be happy when this “antisocial” media phase finally dies out and people return to actually being civil and social and communicating face to face rather than via some bullshit app on a phone.

  5. I don’t do Facebook and turned off Twitter. No Instagram. No Pinterest. Why? I’m far too busy to be preoccupied with all the static and noise. The constant distraction forces me to neglect the strategic thinking and deliberation needed to effectively service my clients and deliver the results they seek. However, I do follow my LinkedIn account.

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