10 Things social media companies do that should freak you out. Privacy is dead.

10 Things social media companies do that should freak you out. Privacy is dead.

We’ve all been following the congressional hearings where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled for two days after the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach. We have heard of the many incidents all over the world where social media companies have been accused of all kinds of nefarious tactics to keep us all hooked on social media. Privacy has become a hot topic and it’s time that we fully understand what they are doing.

Here are ten things that social media companies do that you probably didn’t know about. And if this doesn’t freak you out, nothing will.

  1. They specifically show you posts in your news feed that will anger you. 

Yes, they don’t like it when you’re happy. They want you to rant. People that rant also share a lot. People that rant create controversy and controversy generates lots of activity on their platforms. More activity results in more ad views. The loss of privacy results in more ad revenue.

  1. They love fake news. 

Despite all their denials and posturing, social media companies thrive on fake news. Without fake news their revenues will be halved in a matter of days. This is because fake news is always sensationalist. Sensationalist news attracts viral behaviour and that results in more ad revenue. That is why most fake news sites exist. It’s not to try and influence elections, although there are some with a propaganda agenda. It’s about money. Fake news sites create fake news so that they get many people reading and sharing. People click on their ads and they generate revenue.

  1. They track you wherever you go. 

You can do whatever you like to try and prevent this, but it’s built into the OS. The incestuous relationships between the various companies guarantees that they share data with each other. There have been numerous tests where brand new phones were used and where the results conclusively proved that you are being tracked all the time. They call it Geo Targeting. They know where you are and where you were, 24 hours day. The only way to get past this is to switch off your phone, and some people claim that won’t help either. They use the tracking data to customize advertising. Most people don’t even realise the creepiness of a McDonalds ad appearing in their news feed the moment they are within 10 km range of a McDonalds drive-through. The loss of privacy has moved from the digital world to the real world.

  1. They keep everything. 

You can do what you like but they keep every bit of data they collect on you. You will never know how detailed and comprehensive their profile is on you. You can delete your account, but it won’t help.

  1. They track you online.

You don’t even have to be a Facebook or twitter user to be tracked. They do anyway. They do this through tracking cookies that are embedded in the websites you visit. Almost every website on the internet has sharing buttons from Facebook and twitter. Behind these buttons are programming code that passes information about the visitor to the companies. They don’t own these websites, but they gather information on all their users. So even if you are not a Facebook user, your identity will be an IP address and unique browser identification. As you move through the internet the social media companies track what you click on and where you go, building a profile of your habits. At some point you hit a website where you are logged in and where that website shares your data with Facebook or twitter and bingo! They can now connect the anonymous users browsing activity that they have been gathering with a real person, who’s data they bought from the website.

  1. Google is way more invasive (or evil) than Facebook or Twitter.

Google is the big daddy of big data. They practically invented internet social engineering on gigantic scale. Every website in the world is indexed by google and almost every website is connected with programming code to Google analytics. This code is added by webmasters on websites under the auspices of providing the webmaster with analytical data so that they can improve their websites. It also provides reports on numbers of visitors etc. but in fact, this code is nothing but spying software installed on a website that allows google to track you everywhere. Google analytics passes data from a website you just visited to the next website you visit thereby tracking you wherever you go. They do this so that when you visit a website they can show you personalized ads. So, this morning you visit amazon.com to check out the latest tech gadget and this afternoon you read your news on your favourite news website and voila! What do you see? The same gadget from amazon that you were looking at earlier on amazon. Now this seems innocuous but consider the ramifications. They know when you go to a political website. They know everything you do. All the time. And then they show you ads in line with your habits. Not just ads, but articles and stories as well. They are the great enforcers of confirmation bias in the world.

  1. They read your email.

They can deny it as much as they want, but there are just too many coincidences. Too many studies that prove that they do. These companies work together, and they give each other access to your data. Facebook reads your email. They were even sued in 2014. If you send email using Gmail then Facebook has read the contents of that email even before it arrives at the recipient. You send and enquiry to your travel agent about a trip to Disney world and later in the day you visit Facebook. What do you see in your news feed? A Disney world ad.

  1. They read your WhatsApp messages.

Facebook recently acquired WhatsApp. Why did they do that? There’s no money to be made from WhatsApp on it’s own. They purchased WhatsApp so that they can know more about your private life. They want to know what you are saying to your friends. This is where you discuss plans and share information about all kinds of things. You discuss with your friend on WhatsApp that you are looking at buying a new car and within seconds you will see that new car advert on your news feed, websites about that new car will suddenly appear on the top of the organic search results on Google and your Twitter feed will be miraculously sorted to show relevant tweets. In fact, you will receive email spam messages relating to your planned new car purchase. Everything to get you to buy from their advertising partners so that they can get a piece of the cake.

  1. You can never be forgotten.

Google recently lost its case in the EU about the right to be forgotten. Basically, this means that you should be able to ask Google to delete all your data so that when people search for you on the search engine, they find nothing. This is a meaningless verdict because the data is spread over millions of servers across millions of companies. You will never be able to exit the web of data that has been weaved around your identity. Short of changing your identity of course. When you agreed to the terms of service of these companies you sold your privacy forever.

  1. And we leave the best for last.

They listen to your real-world conversations. This means that while you are having a real conversation with friends or family in your house, they listen to you. All the time. They do this through your phones. When you install Facebook you give it permission to access your microphone be default. The microphone is always, activated and then they transcribe the words you speak and pick out the keywords. These keywords are then used to serve you personalized ads. Sounds farfetched right? Not at all. Siri already listens to you. So, does google now. You can speak to Siri and Siri will understand you. Facebook’s AI is vastly more advanced than Siri. You have a conversation with your spouse this morning and a few hours later an ad relating to your topic of conversation miraculously appears on your news feed. Think this is fake news? Nope. I have tested it myself and there have been many experiments that prove this. Facebook has obviously denied it vigorously. But of course, they would.

Just a pity no-one raised this question at the congressional hearings. Mark Zuckerberg can be glad I wasn’t there to grill him. We would still be busy today.


Facebook conversation eavesdropping

Facebook conversation eavesdropping

Facebook is listening to you. No, not in a nice way. Facebook is actually listening to what you say in conversations.

A few days ago I was talking to my wife about a Uniworld Cruise. We discussed the destinations and options for about an hour. Now, I have never interacted with Uniworld. I have never liked their page or commented on anything related to Uniworld. I have absolutely no association with Uniworld.

About an hour after our discussion I was looking at my Facebook newsfeed, and guess what I saw? A Uniworld sponsored advert. Is this just coincidence?

I’m no conspiracy theorist so I quickly forgot about it, writing it off to coincidence. Today, my brother and I have a brief discussion about email and Google’s G-suite product. Approximately 30 minutes later I’m checking my newsfeed and what do I see? A G-suite sponsored advert.

This is not a coincidence. With Facebook’s AI it will be very easy for them to eavesdrop on conversations through your phones microphone and then interpret what they heard. It will be easy to identify keywords that came up in the conversation and then to link those keywords with sponsored ads.

This is the holy grail for any advertiser. Identifying potential customers while they are in the process of thinking and making decisions. Influencing them at this point will yield a much higher click-through rate than traditional online marketing.

With Facebook’s privacy policies under immense scrutiny after the Cambridge Analytica incident, this has the potential to explode into a massive public relations disaster for Facebook.

I concede that the above is certainly not conclusive evidence of nefarious practises, but for me the coincidence is just too much.

I am convinced that Facebook is eavesdropping on phone users through the Facebook App. I won’t be surprised if Google does it as well.

We need to get to the bottom of this. It’s profoundly disturbing.


Why complaining on Social Media works

Almost everyone that use Social Media has at some time seen this comment on a post. “Complaining on Social Media doesn’t work.” or “Go talk to the manager”. Or, “Complaining on Social Media is a waste of time”.

I have come to the conclusion that people that regularly say this, and probably believe this, are the same people who would ignore social media complaints if their business were at the receiving end. They won’t respond and, in some cases, even verbally attack the complainant on Social Media if they dared make a negative remark about their business or service. These people react badly to negative criticism or complaints and then assume that all business owners feel the same way. It’s a classic example of confirmation bias and ignorance.

The irony is that almost every single one of the people that say complaining on Social Media does not work, have themselves complained on Social Media at some point. You then have to question their motives and herein lies the crux of the matter.

Many people that are opposed to complaints on Soicial Media have friends that own businesses that give poor service and are regularly on the receiving end of complaints. Inevitably they want to protect their friends. What they don’t realise is that they are not being good friends and they are doing these businesses more damage than good. Businesses that receive many complaints get these complaints because they provide bad service. It’s really as simple as that. There is no other motivation for people to bother to complain on Social Media and in 99.9% of the cases these complaints are valid.

Let me reiterate. Complaining on Social media works. It gets results. All the time.

If you’re tired of being treated poorly by retailers, airlines and other service-industry types, take revenge via social media. You will get heard, and get action.

Whether it’s a bad experience with a brand or receiving a faulty product, 67 percent of consumers have at some point contacted a business through its social media channels to provide negative feedback.

“There is a tremendous echo in social-media channels,” said Thomas Sclafani, a spokesman for American Express, which found in a recent survey that consumers who use social media to get a company’s attention wield a much bigger stick than those who don’t.

That’s because, beyond the broader audience who might see a complaint on, say, Facebook or Twitter, people who use social media to voice their discontent are much likelier to also talk to people directly about the problem, compared with someone who simply calls the customer-service center.

Social media-ites, according to the American Express survey, will directly tell 53 people about bad customer-service experiences, who will tell their friends who will tell their friends and so on.

Those who don’t use social media tell only 17 people they’re unhappy with a service, compared with the 24 people that the general population tells.

The same is true for good experiences, by the way. Social-media users tell 42 people they were thrilled with some service versus the nine people told by those who don’t use social media and the 15 people with whom the general population confides.

Overwhelmingly, consumers still take the traditional face-to-face and phone route to speak to real, live people to make complaints, according to American Express’s annual Global Customer Service Barometer. But they’re getting better results when they amplify that complaint on a widely used social-media site like Facebook or Twitter.

Not sure if you need to worry about this? Maybe these stats can convince you to boost your social service efforts:

  • Customers are likely to spend 20 to 40 percent more with a business after a successful social customer service experience.
  • Brands can see as much as three times more potential revenue from resolved negative issues on social media than revenue brought in just from positive reviews.
  • Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of individuals who have a good social customer service experience are more likely to recommend a business to others.

These numbers may sway you to bolster your customer service on social sites, but let’s look at some real examples of social media customer service, and how they helped or hurt the respective brands.

Success stories

Call it the power of the people online. It manifested late last year when Molly Katchpole, the then-22-year-old part-time nanny took on the mighty Bank of America’s efforts to tag $5 debit-card fees on customers.

The 300,000-strong signatures on her Change.org petition—not to mention the scores of unsigned sympathizers—forced the nation’s largest bank and its competitors to back off from charging people to spend their own money.

When Verizon attempted to levy a $2 online-payment fee. More than 130,000 signatures made it to that petition in 24 hours, and the company backed down.

There have been other outrages publicized via social media. Take the Canadian songwriter who came up against United Airlines when it wouldn’t cover his $3,500 guitar that was broken by baggage handlers. His humorous protest “United Breaks Guitars” went viral on YouTube and prompted United to give him a one-time licensing fee to use his video in its customer-service training.

Turn negative into positive

So what do you do when you get that dreaded negative comment on your company Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other page? Well, obviously whatever you do, don’t follow the lead of Pigalle’s manager. Instead, focus on the strategies below to ensure you’re providing an exceptional service experience online no matter how negative the feedback is.

Don’t ignore it: If you decide to ignore a negative comment, it’s not going to go away. In fact, failing to provide an answer to a customer’s issue on social media can increase your churn rate by 15 percent. Address the comment, find out what the issue is and work to resolve it.

Throw out the script: People know a canned response when they see one. Don’t rely on scripted answers for customer issues. This makes your brand appear robotic, and customers may think you are not focused on individually connecting with them.

Listen and empathize: Customers want to feel like they are heard, so take the time to listen (or read) their concerns. Empathizing with their problems (much like JetBlue did) goes a long way to keeping them as loyal patrons in the future. You can even have fun with it, if the situation warrants a bit of humor.

Watch the clock: As evidenced by the British Airways example, customers want their issues resolved – or at least addressed – within a reasonable time frame. Make sure you respond to negative feedback in a timely manner. Even if you can’t offer a solution right away, acknowledging the comment helps turn negative feedback into a positive experience.

Learn from it: All of your efforts are for nothing if you don’t take what you’ve learned and apply it going forward. If you’re getting the same negative comments over and over, that shows your brand isn’t doing anything to fix the problem, and potential customers will be turned off.

Negative feedback on social media can be scary, but it doesn’t have to hurt you. By taking the right steps, you can turn what might look like a bad situation and into a positive one – for both your company and your customers.

Binne in die mooiste huisies

Sondag oggend is die straat leeg. ‘n Ou stuk koerant waai wispelturig oor die verlate straat. Die briesie van die see stoot die papier nog so paar tree verder voordat dit tot stilstand kom teen ‘n ou Melkhoutboom. Die Goukou rivier lê stil en bak in die oggend son.

Die weerkaatsing van die huisies maak mens kalm en rustig. So rustig dat jy vergeet dat daar mense is wat daar woon. Die huisies is kleurvol en die tuine netjies. Die spieëlbeelde op die water rimpel so nou en dan. Die enigste beweging. Stilte.

Ek hoor die kerk orrel. Die stemme bereik my ore so sekonde later. Dof, eentonig. Die gemeente sing nou seker ‘n Psalm. Ek luister. Ek ken die liedjie. Psalm 15. Ek onthou hoe ons dit op Sondagskool gesing het 45 jaar gelde. Ek kon nooit die woorde onthou nie, maar ons moes agterbly om dit te leer. Elke woord.

Wie het die reg om in u woonplek te kom, Here?
Wie mag op u heilige berg vertoef?

Hy wat onberispelik wandel
en doen wat reg is,
wat met sy hele hart die waarheid praat,

nie kwaad praat nie,
sy medemens nie kwaad aandoen nie
en niemand beledig nie;

hy wat dié verag wat deur God verwerp is,
maar almal eer wat die Here dien;
wat sy woord hou, selfs tot sy eie skade,

sy geld nie op rente uitleen nie
en hom nie laat omkoop om die onskuldige te kort te doen nie.

Ek kyk weer na die huisies aan die oorkant van die rivier. Die son tref die mure. Dit maak die kleure nog helderder uitstaan. Idillies. Beeldskoon. Die stemme word harder soos wat hulle die noot soek.

nie kwaad praat nie,
sy medemens nie kwaad aandoen nie
en niemand beledig nie;

Ek wonder by myself; Wat dink hulle as hulle in die kerk staan, met die Psalm boekie oop voor hulle. Die dominee agter die preekstoel. Die kinders aan albei kante van pa en ma. Wat dink hulle as hulle die woorde sing?

Ek hoor “Amen!”, en ek stap aan. Verby die ou skuit wat al vir jare daar lê. Ek tel die koerant papier op wat vassit teen die Melkhoutboom. Ek frommel dit op en gooi dit in die asblik op die hoek van die straat.

Die motors kom nader, soos ‘n begrafnis stoet. Een vir een ry hulle verby. Pa agter die stuurwiel met ‘n ernstige kyk op sy gesig. Ma kyk anderkant toe. Die kinders is tjoepstil. Nog ‘n motor kom verby. En nog een. Huistoe.

My foon maak “piiiing”. Ek kyk na die skermpie. Dis ‘n “notification”. Iemand het ‘n foto gelaai op een van die Facebook groepe. Een van die baie Facebook groepe in die dorp. Die Facebook was stil vanoggend. Want almal was in die kerk. Nou is hulle by die huis.

Ek behoort aan omtrent al die Facebook groepe, want dit is my werk. Hierdie foto is by “Opsitkers” geplaas. ‘n Vrou met baie groot bates in ‘n rooi baaibroek wat net vir ‘n walvis sal pas. Die opskrif is “Stamp my soos ‘n Isuzu, PAPPA!”.

“Piiing” maak my foon weer. Dit raak nou besig. Hulle is seker nou almal by die huis. Sit nou op die stoep en drink die eerste brannas en coke. Nog nie die suit uitgetrek nie. Die das is darem af.

Ek kyk na my my foon. Dis ‘n Whatsapp van ‘n vriend. Nog ‘n foto wat op een van die groepe geplaas is. Die foto se opskrif is “Found an old pic of my uncle joe. He was a fucking legend. That’s me playing in the background.” In die agtergrond van die foto is ‘n kind besig om te speel met ‘n ander kind op die strand maar dit lyk asof hulle seks het. Die kind is seker nie ouer as 5 jaar nie.

My foon hou aan “piiing”. Ek wil nie meer kyk nie.

Ek kom by die huis. Koffie eerste en dan voor my rekenaar. Ek gaan sit. Maar vandag voel ek vuil. Ek het nie so ver gestap nie, maar ek voel klammerig. Vuil. Ek gaan stort. Ek sukkel om die vuil afgewas te kry. Hierdie tipe vuil kan mens nie met seep en water afkry nie.

Ek skuif voor my rekenaar in. Wie behoort aan hierdie groepe? wonder ek. Ek vra my vriend om vir my die ledelys te stuur. Ek ken die name. Omtrent almal van hulle. Die sogenaamde pilare van die gemeenskap is ook daar. Trotse burgers van ons klein dorpie. Van kassiere tot raadslede behoort aan die groepe. Besigheid eienaars, eiendomsagente, bankiers en skoonmakers. Almal. Ek kyk weer na die boodskappe. Nog ‘n vriend stuur vir my iets. Ek skud my kop.

Die huisies is mooi. Die kleure helder, daar oorkant die rivier. Die kerk is uit. Die groepe is besig. Foto’s word gelaai en kommentaar gelewer. Die Psalm is vinnig vergete. Geen tyd vir moraliteit nou nie. Dit was vroeër. Voor die brannas en coke.

Daar, binne in die mooi huisies, met die mooi geverfde mure en die netjies tuintjies, sit die burgers. Hulle oë stokstyf gefokus op die skermpie terwyl hulle met ‘n dik vinger deur die plasings blaai, opsoek na nog ‘n vulgêre prentjie. Nog ‘n rassistiese grappie. Nog ‘n persoonlike aanval. Hulle rol rond in die varkhok en skater van die lag terwyl hulle mekaar met vark mis besmeer. Selfs die wat nie deelneem nie, maar lede is, word ook bedek met die vark mis. Die stank is ondraaglik.

Ek wil weer gaan stort, maar ek weet dit sal nie help nie. Ek sit die rekenaar af. Ek nodig om asem te skep. Ek nodig vars lug. Die seebries laat my beter voel en ek kyk oor die see. Die dorpie lê in die afstand.

Mis kom stadig aangerol oor die diepsee. Ek kyk weer maar die dorpie is weg.

Weg in die mis.

Facebook and the Law

Facebook and the Law

I manage a few Facebook Groups and a number of Facebook pages and I am constantly confronted with the issue of defamation on social media. As social media becomes more popular and ubiquitous the issue around defamation has received quite a bit of public attention. Unfortunately many people still don’t understand how social media works, jurisdiction and how South African law views posts and comments on Facebook.

I have been involved in social media and online marketing for many years and have studied the laws pertaining to privacy and social media in detail as it affects my work on an almost daily basis. What follows is an attempt to demystify the concept of social media defamation. I am not going to deal with privacy issues and will leave that for another article.

The innocuous looking case of H v W which was handed down in the South Gauteng High Court on 30 January 2013 is the best and most recent case we have to determine how South African courts interpret cases of social media defamation. Judge Willis’ 30 page judgment recognises the harm a Facebook post can do to a person’s reputation and throws the weight of the Court behind the person defamed (and who can afford the legal fees). In this particular case the defamation was clear and the applicant won the case.

The law the Court relied on

The lawyers involved in the matter conducted what appears to be fairly substantial research on the law on defamation online and with reference to Facebook. Judge Willis relied fairly heavily on two academic articles by –


Resolving the tensions between every human being’s constitutionally enshrined rights both to freedom of expression and to dignitas is all about balance. In the case of Le Roux v Dey Freedom of Expression Institute and Another as amici curiae) the Constitutional Court emphasized the need to take into account the context in which a publication occurs.

Similarly, Grimmelmann has referenced the legal maxim de minimis non curat lex which Judge Willis translated as “the law is not concerned with trivia”.

Businesses and defamation

With respect to public figures and businesses, he pointed out that while they enjoy a right to privacy, “[t]here is legitimate public interest in the affairs of public figures” and this means that they may not enjoy the same degree of protection as citizens not in the public spotlight when it comes to defamation online. As Judge Willis put it –

Trenchant commentaries on the performances of politicians as politicians, entertainers as entertainers, musicians as musicians, artists as artists, writers as writers, poets as poets, sports stars as sports stars will generally pass legal muster, even if posted in the social media. When it comes to freedom of expression in South Africa, there are oceans in which to swim and upon which to sail as freely as the wind blows.

A customer of a business will always have the right to publish on Facebook an account of her experience at that businesses. As long as the experience passes the test of defamation then it is not defamation but a review. Reviews can either be positive or negative and negative reviews, if made by a customer, cannot be classified as defamation because it is in the public interest and to the public benefit.

If individuals can be sued for making a negative post about a business, of which they are/were a customer then Facebook, Google, Tripadvisor, Booking.com and many large websites will cease to exist. Reviews have become a de faco means of expressing one’s opinion about a product or service.

The test of defamation

The test for determining whether words published are defamatory is to ask whether a ‘reasonable person of ordinary intelligence might reasonably understand the words . . . to convey a meaning defamatory of the plaintiff. . . . The test is an objective one. In the absence of an innuendo, the reasonable person of ordinary intelligence is taken to understand the words alleged to be defamatory in their natural and ordinary meaning. In determining this natural and ordinary meaning the Court must take account not only of what the words expressly say, but also of what they imply’

Referencing one of the justifications for (or defences to) defamation, namely that the defamatory material be true and to the public benefit or in the public interest, Judge Willis drew an important distinction that is worth bearing in mind –

A distinction must always be kept between what ‘is interesting to the public’ as opposed to ‘what it is in the public interest to make known’. The courts do not pander to prurience.

Important points to consider when you feel that someone (not you) has posted something that could be defamatory.

  • South African law does not require a person to be the originator of the defamatory content to be held liable – merely repeating or “sharing” a defamatory post is sufficient to constitute defamation;
  • a person may be equally liable for another person’s posts where that person knows that they have been tagged in the other person’s post and allows their name to be used, and fails to take steps to disassociate themselves from the defamatory post;
  • a series of comments or posts published via social media may have a defamatory meaning when read together, despite each comment or post appearing individually harmless; and
  • an apology on the same social media where a defamatory statement has been made may assist in mitigating the damage to a person’s dignity and reputation.

The Truth is On Your Side

Ultimately, you have every right to leave a bad review or make a negative post about a business, as long as you act in good faith and don’t lie. The difference between a legal negative review and an illegal one comes down to libel in many cases: “While defamation laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction, libel is the defamation of a company or individual in written form,” explained TekRevue. “To prevail on a libel claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a published statement about the plaintiff that was false, injurious, and unprivileged.” 


Marthinus Strydom




How to deal with customer complaints

How to deal with customer complaints

Yes, it’s true. More people complain that compliment. It’s natural human behavior. People complain when they’re upset and seldom compliment good service. Good service is expected. Bad service is not.

Customer complaints are part and parcel of running a business and every business gets complaints, no matter how good they are. The idea is obviously to get as few as possible complaints. 

 Today community communication through social media is ubiquitous. Everyone belongs to some group or forum where they share common interests and it’s easy for them to share their opinion about the service they received at a business. Inevitably they share their bad experiences because they want to either “get even” or because they want to legitimately warn their friends. 

In the past many large companies had call centers and help lines dealing with complaints. Today most companies have social media teams that monitor online chatter about their brand. Some even use complex software to track and monitor online mentions. These teams then respond to complains online ensuring that the complaints don’t spiral out of control and eventually become viral.

Some companies are very good at it while others are notoriously bad at it. The ones that are bad at it are typically still stuck in the old school thinking that if they ignore the complaint then it will go away. The problem with social media is that it seldom just goes away. In fact, it typically escalates into a much bigger problem and if dealt with expeditiously in the beginning the escalation could have been prevented. Companies that are bad at dealing with online complaints typically also just provide bad service. 

 So what must a business do to deal with complaints effectively? 

 You don’t have to be a multinational company with a team of social media experts to deal with complaints effectively. You don’t need complex software algorithms to warn you about online activity. The first and foremost thing you need to do is provide good service.

The reality is that if you provide good service then you will seldom have to deal with complaints. Your purpose is to provide a service to your customers and if they don’t like what you’re doing then obviously you are doing something wrong. How can you know if you are on the wrong track? How will you know if you are overcharging your customers? How will you know if your product or service is crappy? Your cusrtomers will tell you. In no uncertain terms. 

 How do you fix it? 

 By listening and then acting accordingly.

Every company is inside a community. It could be a geographical community or industry. Every company operates inside a community. Find the places where your community congregates online. Join these communities and participate. Listen, read and be watchful. It’s your community and you need to know what they are saying.

If you pick up one complaint about your business don’t stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. Don’t take it personally. Don’t get upset. Don’t become indignant. Every customer has a right to complain if they feel they were short-changed or didn’t receive the service they paid for. It’s their right, guaranteed in our Constitution. In addition it’s legal. 

It’s totally legal for a customer to complain about poor service. In fact the Consumer a Protection Act actively encourages complaining about service issues. 

The only time you, as the business owner will have recourse is if the complaint is obviously defamatory. It can only be defamatory if it’s not the truth. If I say that the hamburger you sold me is too expensive then it’s my opinion and you have no recourse. If I say that it tasted bad, then you cannot sue me. If I say that I found a cockroach in my food and it’s not true and I can’t prove it then I am lying and you can sue me for defamation.

The reality is that most complaints are legitimate. Why would someone bother to complain if it’s not true? 

 So how do you handle it? 

 Once you see the complaint respond immediately. Immediately apologise and offer to correct it. Don’t make lame-ass excuses. Consumers aren’t stupid. Be genuine and apologize. Offer to rectify the situation.

Listen and learn. Don’t be hard-assed. Don’t be bullheaded and fob the customer off by insinuating that they don’t know what they’re talking about. The customer is king and you must respect the fact that they spend their money with you. You are either going to create a prophet for your business or you are going to create a terrorist. 

 Be honest with yourself. If the customer is right and you can change the way you do things then do it. Change your recipe. Reprimand a staff member that annoyed the customer. Change your pricing policy. Improve your service.

By being open minded you will constantly improve and you will receive less complaints. You will have more happy customers. Your reputation will improve and people will notice that you really care about the service you provide. 

Every possible opportunity you have to interact with a customer is a good marketing opportunity. Your goal must be to turn every disgruntled customer into a happy customer. Even if you are responding to a complaint online you are marketing yourself. It’s an opportunity to talk to customers. Isn’t that what business are supposed to do? 

In closing, the excuse that you don’t use Facebook or Twitter or Instagram is not a valid excuse.  These are your tools. They should be your new best friends. If you don’t know how to use these tools then learn. Find a way. 

Ignorance is not an excuse and if you don’t use these tools then you will have to bear the brunt of the brutal immediacy that social media will unleash upon you.

Businesses Beware Of Consumer Activism

Businesses Beware Of Consumer Activism

What a cheek! You know the feeling. You go to a business and all you get for your hard-earned cash is poor service. Afterwards you realize you’ve wasted your time and your money. Your’e annoyed and irritated because you didn’t get what you expected. What do you do?

Some people go back to the business and complain. They tell the manager about the bad service and perhaps the business tries to rectify the problem by giving them their money back. That was what happened in the past but today things are very different.

The digital generation dislikes confrontation. They are connected with the world and their anger and disappointment is voiced through all the social media channels they have access to. Today, people don’t like to confront businesses about their bad service – they Facebook, Tweet, Foursquare, Instagram, Linkdin and Pinterest. If you are a business owner and you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about then you are in trouble.

You see, in the past people didn’t have these outlets for their frustration and they confronted a business directly. Today, by the time a customer has walked out of your shop they have told their average 3,000 connections almost immediately, and these social media interactions are having a much bigger impact than you might think.

A business has one chance to impress a customer. People don’t want to complain anymore in person because it takes too much effort. It’s much easier to bitch in 140 characters and press the send button. The result is almost immediate punishment for poor service. Whether you like it or not, this is the reality of today’s connected consumer.

Consumers have become much less tolerant of poor service. Time is valuable and most people have busy lives. They don’t have time to have protracted arguments with businesses about their service or to give them lessons in customer retention. Consumers give their money to business in good faith and expect good service. Nay, they demand good service.

Businesses that understand this and embrace this new reality actually benefit from it because they do what they are paid to do, give good service, the first time. They ensure that no customer leaves their premises if they’re not happy. They do it right the first time. The result is that they get the positive Tweets and the good social media comments. They get the mentions and 5-star ratings. They get new customers that read the raving reviews.

Here are some interesting facts about how Social Media affects purchasing decisions:

  • Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.
  • 53% of consumers who said they use Twitter to recommend companies or products in their Tweets, 48% bought that product or service.
  • 15,100,000 consumers go to social media channels before making purchase decisions.
  • 49% of consumers use Facebook to search for restaurants.
  • 74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions.

The immediacy that Twitter offers has made it a firm favorite with consumers looking for fast responses to customer service queries.

Just today I walked out of a restaurant in a small town and before I reached my car all my friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, connections on Linkdin and followers on Foursquare had read about the good service I received. Many hundreds of people that will visit the town sometime in the future will see my commentary and it will influence their decision to go to that restaurant or not.

Businesses need to take their customers very seriously, much more so than in the past. The digital generation has a zero tolerance for poor service, and rightly so.

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Facebook Faceoff – citizens unite!

Facebook Faceoff – citizens unite!

The power of Facebook is no more evident than in the role it played during the recent revolts that toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Social media has become a platform for political lobbying as was demonstrated with the Barak Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, and more recently through citizen mobilisation. These two opposing camps are heading for a faceoff.

The recent Tunisia and Egypt uprisings were only the beginning, Facebook pages and groups have been setup to mobilise protesters in Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco and Syria with Twitter protests extending to Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Yemen last month.

Already people are at risk from governments looking to hunt down dissenters as was experienced in Tunisia after government officials used a virus to obtain local Facebook passwords.

The question is will social media companies be able to protect the human rights of citizens from governments? Will governments flex their repressive muscles and force Facebook to capitulate? It seems not as the United States’ Obama administration announced a new policy on Internet freedom, intended to help people get around barriers in cyberspace while making it harder for autocratic governments to use the same technology to repress dissent.

According to the New York Times, “The State Department plans to finance programs like circumvention services, which enable users to evade Internet firewalls, and training for human rights workers on how to secure their e-mail from surveillance or wipe incriminating data from cellphones if they are detained by the police. The department has also inaugurated Twitter feeds in Arabic and Persian, and soon will add others in Chinese, Russian and Hindi.”

It remains to be seen whether this stance will be overruled should the US face such an ‘uprising’, not of its citizens but from its enemies.

Imagine this: Islamic activists mobilising on social media to co-ordinate a synergistic movement against the West? When you have freedom of speech and allow people of all nations to do what they want in the online world (except in countries like China, and Iran, which have restricted access), governments have absolutely no control. And governments are all about control. In this hypothetical case, can you see the US, and its security divisions, sit back and watch a threat mobilise on social media and do nothing about it? Absolutely not.

The argument is that social media can be a force that leads to democratic change, but cannot by itself bring down repressive regimes. Well that is the view by the West, however recent events in Tunisia and Egypt show otherwise.

It will be interesting to see how social networks will beef up security to protect its users and even help its users who trust them explicitly.

In South Africa, while the internet pool for social network politics is small, it certainly is not dull with the DA and ANC squaring off in what can only be described as petty squabbling.

More social media theatrics in South African politics reared its head with the Solidarity vs.  Jimmy Manyi, Spokesperson for the ANC and President of the Black Management Forum issue. Solidarity, a predominantly white union group, released comments Manyi made about coloured workers over a year ago on YouTube, just in time for the upcoming municipal elections. The DA quickly jumped on this bandwagon uploading on YouTube Manyi’s comments on Indians. And so it goes on.

While the Twitterverse may be alive with political party messaging and inter party jibes, there is a whole nation of young people who are accessing social media on their phones or through the internet and it is a matter of time before the waves of dissent hit our shores.


SA beware of the WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’

As the unfolding WikiLeaks ‘cyberwar’ demonstrates, traditional protests have definitely moved into the online world. Marthinus Strydom, Marketing Director of McCarthy Motor Group, warns that we need to be aware of the fact that today, damage to companies, people and governments could come from online communities.

“On Wednesday top multinational companies and other organisations withdrew support for WikiLeaks and the result: a “cyberwar” of Internet activists who attacked its “enemies” web sites causing these corporate Web sites including Visa, Paypal and Mastercard, to become inaccessible or slow down markedly,” Strydom says.

“The real issue at heart here is that these organisations underestimated the power of today’s consumers who have become online activists – they either sing your praises or become cyber terrorists – your worst nightmare.

“In South Africa, a case in point is Woolworths attempting to remove a Christian Publication from its stores and being lambasted by an online community therefore having to keep the publication on its shelves.”

“Companies in South Africa need to take heed and plan strategically in terms of the scenarios that can happen online. These powerful super-consumers are able to voice their opinions very quickly via blogs and social media and will merge together for a common cause – as a group they pose a powerful threat to companies and brands.”

Consider the following staggering statistics which is growing daily: there are an approximate total of six-million web users in SA. A total of 14-million WAP users (those who use their mobile to access the web) across all three SA networks. There are 500-million Facebook users in the world – if it were a country it would be the third biggest on earth… in just four years! In South Africa there are three-million South Africans on Facebook and this is growing daily with 50% logging in daily.

“Companies that pull the wool over their eyes and think this can’t happen to them must think again. It is and it will. Consumers now have the same, if not more, marketing power as any organisation’s marketing team and online activists can damage a company, brands or people, within a matter of hours,” he says.

Managing Director of strategic communications company, Livewired PR, Janine Lloyd, concurs: “It is imperative for organisations to understand the power of these super-consumers and strategically consider the impact and reaction from these consumers to their business decisions. This kind of crises should not have happened. Did these organisations engage the communications experts to provide counsel on the impact of the collective decision to withdraw support for WikiLeaks? Probably not. Would the outcome have been any different? Probably.”

“Marketers and business leaders need to get up to speed with the digital world and its enormous power. We need to understand and plan strategically to integrate the digital world into our thinking and actions. Making critical business decisions without consideration or dialogue with audiences online is a big mistake,” she says.

“Understanding that we have little control or power over what consumers say is one of the basic truths in communications today, however companies must learn to engage and consider their online communities. They must even consider changing their business decisions based on the huge negative impact today’s super-consumer can have on their brands, company or people.”