Social Media and Consumer Perceptions
In developing your brand, the customers’ perception is everything. Entire advertising campaigns are developed to focus on improving the consumer’s perception of a product, ultimately resulting in increased sales.
So, if a positive perception can improve outcomes, it is reasonable to assume a negative perception can hurt outcomes. In 2012, American Apparel caused outrage when it sent an email blast advertising an online Hurricane Sandy Sale “in case you’re bored during the storm.” Recipients of the email were less than amused, seeing the ads as insulting and insensitive to those impacted by the natural disaster – and they were quick to voice their opinions on Twitter, some going as far as organizing boycotts.
However, many companies don’t realize that their image does not solely rest of the shoulders of upper management and marketing teams – it comes down to their lowest level employees.
Marketing Begins with Your Employees
You can invest millions of dollars in marketing, advertising and branding, but at the end of the day, your company lives and dies with the customer experience your employees provide your customers. You can get hundreds of new clients with marketing, but ultimately, it’s up to your employees to uphold your company’s image to ensure those clients will come back. When employees fail to uphold this image, results can be disastrous.
In 2009, two Domino’s employees went viral with a prank video in which one employee puts cheese and peppers up his nose before putting the ingredients in a customer’s order, among other equally disgusting antics. Within days, references to the video dominated nearly half of Google’s page one results for the search term “Domino’s.” As a result, the franchise where the pranksters were employed lost so much business that it was forced to close down.
Recently, Chipotle has faced a similar (though admittedly less dramatic) scandal. A Buzzfeed article was published titled “31 Ways to Make Chipotle Employees Hate You.” The article was composed of a list of grievances by Chipotle employees, which included customers who request extra toppings, customers who don’t know the proper names of certain ingredients, and customers who order the “secret menu” item, the Quesorito (apparently, it takes considerably longer to make). But along with the complaints were various insults to Chipotle customers. See below.
The article may not have had a wide enough reach to actually impact sales, but these comments would certainly indicate that the article turned off least some of Chipotle’s potential customers.
While the employee Tweets reflect the views of only a small fraction of Chipotle’s team, social media has the megaphone-like effect of magnifying the voice of a small group to the point where it actually reflects badly on the entire company.
In the words of Peter Parker’s uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. With social media becoming such a powerful tool, which can be used or misused by virtually anyone, companies are now only as strong as their weakest members.
But how can a company prevent a select few from acting in a way that can be destructive to the entire organization?
How Can You Protect Your Company’s Image?
Protecting your company’s image from the media or unhappy customers can be hard enough, but protecting it from your own employees is a whole new ball game.
As an employer, the first – and possibly most vital – step is to realize that your lowest employees make up the foundation of your company. They may be at the bottom, but that makes them the pillars that keep your company standing. Many companies make the mistake of seeing their workers as replaceable and even dispensable, without realizing that without their support, the entire organization can crumble. So, step one is to respect your employees and acknowledge the power they have to make or break your company – a lesson the manager at Domino’s found out the hard way.
To prevent a disgruntled employee from destroying your company’s image, the first thing you, as an employer, can do is avoid having disgruntled employees at all. Employees who are happy – or at least not miserable – in their jobs are less likely to be spending their free time ranting about work on Twitter or Facebook. This may seem easier said than done, especially in minimum-wage industries such as food and retail. The key is to establish a company culture where employees feel like their work is important, they are valued, and their efforts are rewarded. This could mean anything from a monthly employee bonus, a bi-annual raise for loyal and dedicated workers, or even verbal praise for small actions that go beyond the employee’s job description. When I worked in the restaurant industry in high school, our managers would post a weekly news page, which included a segment that called out an employee for an act that went beyond the call of duty. Sure, it wasn’t a pay raise, but I can’t describe how happy it made me the first time I made it on that sheet of paper. Sometimes, it really does come down to the little things. In the long run, investing the time and money to keep your workers happy can save you from costly PR nightmares down the line.
Keeping your workers happy, can be a great preventative tactic, but it’s no guarantee. That’s why every company should also have a social media policy in their employee contracts which explicitly state that employees should engage in their professional or personal social media profiles in a way that reflects badly on the company. Some companies have “guidelines,” but we strongly suggest including the policy in a contract, so that there may be legal ramifications against employees who violate the agreement.
Having the policy in the contract will give you legal grounds, but let’s face it – most employees won’t read contracts all the way through. That’s why it should also be verbally communicated to employees as part of their training.
It may seem like a hassle to follow all of the steps necessary to protect your company’s reputation, but in the end, it is more than worth it to prevent financial losses and long-term damage to your company’s image.