Facebook tells 1000 words: when does ‘Like’ really mean like?

Big brands and small businesses alike seek to build their fans and followers online. If they are lucky, their fans really do like them and end up as customers. If they fail to provide a service or do not deliver as expected, they can risk a backlash that has far-reaching consequences. We saw some major examples of this in 2011 with numerous Australian and overseas brands.

As social media specialists, we often say that success in social media is not about numbers. This is true at one level, given that it is engagement with fans that actually spreads your brand’s message. However, high numbers of fans or followers do give a certain amount of credibility to a brand. New visitors to the page may think, ‘If that many people think they’re great, then they must be.’

This can be hugely misleading!

We are starting to see a trend where brands that may look massively popular with tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of fans or followers are not necessarily in that position because they are ‘Liked’. In fact, the opposite may be true.

I recently had an issue with a daily deals site (which I won’t name outright). Don’t get me wrong, I think the concept is great, but after a few negative experiences, I took this company all the way to the ACCC and Fair Trading, just to get a refund on a service that was never provided. They have no phone number on their website or the white/yellow pages, they have shut down comments on their Facebook wall, and they failed to respond to three contacts through their website. This site is owned by one of Australia’s top 3 television stations. They are not small!

In digging to try and find some way – any way – to contact a human being, I resorted to their Facebook page. It told an interesting story. The page has more than 60,000 ‘Likes’ and hundreds of comments on their posts, indicating high engagement. At first glance, this may give them credibility and kudos (that word might be similar to their business name), but dig a little deeper and the opposite is true.

Their Christmas message has more than 150 comments on it and none of them are wishing the company a Merry Christmas or thanking them for their wonderful service. Every single one of them is a complaint.

One customer post on the page: “I liked this page to see if there was a contact eg: phone number because my endless emails are not being answered. I, too, ordered the bras three months ago, and, as yet, am still waiting! I have dealt with you for the first and last time… you should be ashamed of yourself!! Don’t promise what you can’t deliver! And then have a Facebook page where everyone can freely tell the world of how bad their experiences have been.”

A post from the company: “As you can see we have been extremely busy during the Christmas period. We do apologise for the inconvenience and for not responding to your inquiries via the Facebook wall as quickly as we would have liked. Due to the Christmas period, we will not be responding to inquiries on the wall until the 10th JAN 2012.”

You can imagine how pleased this made customers. This post received another 200 negative comments.

There are few cases where taking down a page completely is the sensible option. This may be one of those cases. This brand either has to get their customer service right and use the platforms they are occupying to actually respond to customers, or shut down, evaluate, plan and start again. If this company comes back from holidays, comes up with a plan, and finds ways to turn this around, they may have more than 60,000 raving fans. But has the damage already been done?

This may frighten some businesses into not wanting to use social media. Let’s remember that it is just a tool. Your job as a business owner is to surprise and delight your customers with great service and a great product. If you do that well, then social media can have a very positive impact on your business… where ‘Like’ really does mean like!

My vote? I’d love a ‘Don’t Like’ option on Facebook, a bit like the YouTube thumbs up, thumbs down system. What do you think?

Kate is a social media specialist and the founder and CEO of Social Mediology. She is passionate about using online technologies to connect businesses with the customers, communities, and causes they care about. Social Mediology specializes in ‘from the ground up’ social media strategy, implementation, and training for small and medium-sized businesses and the not-for-profit sector.

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