John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

John Drinnan: Social media works - but it's getting risky

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Willie Jackson outside the RadioLive studio after he and his co-host John Tamihere were subjected to a twitter campaign by people upset at their treatment of an interview subject. Photo / NZ Herald
Willie Jackson outside the RadioLive studio after he and his co-host John Tamihere were subjected to a twitter campaign by people upset at their treatment of an interview subject. Photo / NZ Herald

Companies are now getting good impact from social media but a marketing expert says that online discourse has become more volatile and smart companies should be aware of that.

"Social media will have a bigger impact because what was once a lone voice can take on a large audience, says Bodo Lang, a senior lecturer in the marketing department and Auckland University.

Lang says social media reaction is democratic and good. But has a dark side with some companies tweeting against the competition.

"Brands can be held ransom by social media, he said.

The debate over social media, cyber-bullying and Charlotte Dawson's trials with social media attacks being highlighted in relation to reason for suicide has emphasised how much the game is changing. Online safety organisations like Netsafe report increasing aggression by abusers on social media, led by so-called "keyboard warriors".

"...when people have an unsatisfactory experience, venting is a big motivator to engage in negative word of mouth."
Bodo Lang

Netsafe says it is hearing of more cases where disgruntled people are attacking judges and other public officials through social media - and the attacks are getting a harder edge.

Lang says the same trend is happening with brand communication, with reactions against brands now swifter and more fierce. There were limited options for stopping the attacks getting out of hand, he said.

Often the best option is to deal with unhappy tweeters or Facebook users offline.

But some were more interested in laying out gripes than having them resolved.

"We know from research that when people have an unsatisfactory experience, venting is a big motivator to engage in negative word of mouth.

It was only so much about things being put right and more about sharing their "disgruntledness", he said.

"That is apparent as soon as you ask someone to donate to something - the reaction disappears very quickly."
Bodo Lang

Increasing numbers of people using social media like Twitter meant numbers of unhappy comments could grow rapidly to a groundswell which became hard for people to disagree with.

The Twitter campaign that led to an advertiser boycott of the Willie and JT show because of an unpopular interview was a case in point.

"Once a few people said they were unhappy with the offending interview others agreed even thought they never listened to it at all."

Negative social media campaigns could frighten businesses, but often they were superficial.

"That is apparent as soon as you ask someone to donate to something - the reaction disappears very quickly," he said.

- NZ Herald

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