Healthcare Marketing: How Do We Respond to Complaints in Social Media?

Brands have responded in various ways to complaints in social media – with varying degrees of success.  Currently there are no solid answers that define the appropriate response.

There are beginning to be numerous examples of complaints originating in social media, but the way brands respond to them is not creating a clear path to success. It seems that every case is different and has to be treated differently.  And despite a brand’s sincere efforts to address problems, sometimes it’s very difficult to have a happy ending.

Some recent examples of complaints originating in social media:

Pampers Cruisers.  A mother called and complained the new Pampers were causing leaks and diaper rash for her daughter.  Proctor and Gamble responded very proactively by agreeing to refund her the cost of the two boxes of diapers she purchased plus agreed to pay her enough to cover two more boxes if she sent her original boxes back to the company.  A great response, right?  Yes, but it did not stop a firestorm within social media channels.  The woman discovered other mothers had experienced the same problems so she launched a concerted attack against Pampers.

Shiny Suds.  A new commercial for Shiny Suds showed cartoon bubbles that harassed a woman in the shower.  Two female feminists took issue with the spot and claimed it condoned rape.  Internet users saw the complaints and bought into the criticism. After a substantial number of customers complained and due to the seriousness of the complaints, Method pulled the plug on the Shiny Suds spot.

Motrin.  Motrin ran an online ad about moms who wear their babies in a sling.After 45 days and over 200,000 exposures there were no complaints.  But after noticing a complaint about the ad, a woman in Colorado pasted a blog about the complaint.  Another Colorado woman posted the first tweet just over 5 hours later.   Within a day, the controversy was generating 300 tweets an hour. Although the apex of the Twitter complaints occurred over a weekend, on Sunday Johnson and Johnson pulled the ad.  Some complained the company had not acted fast enough.  Others criticized J&J for pulling the plug so quickly.

Palm Pre.  Surrounding the launch of the new product rumors circulated on the internet and social media about a problem with the screen cracking.  Sprint considered recalling the product.  But upon further research, the company traced the complaint to one individual who apparently dropped the device and cracked the screen.  Based on the one complaint, the rumor grew legs and spread throughout the internet.

All of these examples prove the potential power of social media in the hands of one or a few who have the desire to propagate their complaints.  It also points out how there are no hard and fast rules on how to respond.  And however the brand responds, there is no guarantee they can stop the controversy.

Some would use these examples to justify a position not to participate in social media. The truth is, these controversies would have been created whether the brand had a presence in social media or not.  At least by monitoring social media the brand quickly learned of the controversy and the seriousness of the complaint. And the brand had the opportunity to respond to the complaint through social networking avenues.

Certainly there are concerns about social media.  It empowers the consumer.  It grants an audience and empowers anyone who wants to use social media to air and broadcast their complaints.  These examples demonstrate that each case is different and unique.  Each case requires serious considerations and a measure of savvy and common sense.  The advantage to brands is that social media allows them to know about the controversy in its early stages.  And social media provides methods of responding to the one complaining and the entire social networking world.  Two very important tools!


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