Parenting The Troubling Adolescent That Is Social Media

Parenting The Troubling Adolescent That Is Social Media
By Dr. Gary Edwards

It’s hard to believe, but Facebook recently turned 10 years old.

In reflecting on Facebook’s birthday, it struck me that feedback on social media can be compared to what many of us find to be one of the most rewarding challenges we ever will have: parenting.

Still with me?

Social media is getting older, and has become a troubling adolescent for many brands that are trying to get it to adapt to their needs and wants. In this “Age of the Customer,” many companies find handling online feedback frustrating and time consuming. It takes patience, a sure hand and a clear head to make sure the customer experience is consistently positive across channels. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child – and this certainly applies to handling customer feedback.

So I have come up with some tips on how to deal with social media that sound suspiciously like parenting tips.

Recognize the increasing capabilities of social media. Children grow up fast, so as they get more reactive, you need to be more proactive. As social media adapts, you need to keep up with the changes so you aren’t left in the dust, or, worse, left with a string of negative comments because you didn’t keep up.

Stay current with what is hot, and not. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are the current go-to sites for engaging with others and sharing opinions, but don’t we remember Geocities, Friendster, and MySpace, which all ruled the cyberspace of social media at one point? Sites and services such as Pinterest and Instagram are becoming more en vogue. To be an engaging parent, you need to stay up-to-date on what interests your children, so you know what is going to be the hot toy when their birthday comes around.

Loyalty breeds happiness. Customer loyalty is paramount, so respond to feedback quickly to solve customers’ problems in as close to real time as possible. Separation anxiety is tough for children to go through. Businesses should also feel separation anxiety if they lose a customer.

People want to be Davids slaying Goliaths. It is natural for consumers to want to be the little guy who takes a giant company to task. It’s what made the film “Erin Brockovich” so popular. It is the same way with social media. Often cloaked in anonymity, people post mean or unfair comments on services or goods with no consequence for their behavior. They are challenging the companies, and companies need to know how to deal with them. Children, as they get older, test their parents. Deal with customers the same way you should deal with your children: Encourage them to be civil. Set boundaries, and stick to them, so that customers know the level of respect you expect. Customers will appreciate brands that maintain an honest and respectful dialogue with everyone – especially detractors.

Respond to feedback, and if necessary, act upon it. Even parents make mistakes. If you have done something wrong, own up to it and be transparent. You hold your children and your customers accountable, so hold yourself accountable, too. Customers expect you to be transparent and responsive when they leave feedback. Admitting fault, when done correctly, will only make you seem more trustworthy to customers.

Social media is getting older and more sophisticated. Much like parenting, dealing with customer feedback can be both rewarding and exhausting. It takes constant vigilance and accountability for all involved. The more you show you care, the less likely they are to tell everyone they hate you.

Gary Edwards, Ph.D., has led worldwide and domestic research on customer and employee behavior for more than 20 years. He oversees the marketing insights department and sales organization at Mindshare Technologies with a focus on influencing client strategy and customer relations. Prior to joining Mindshare, Edwards led worldwide and domestic research projects in customer and employee research working with a wide range of Fortune 500 companies.