Three lessons to be learnt from Vodafone’s Social Media Fail

Today, Vodafone India got a story on the front page of the Economic Times — India’s largest financial daily, for perhaps, the country’s biggest social media fail. And I’m sure some people reading the story are going to blame social media campaigns for the soup Vodafone is in.

The fact of the matter is simple: Vodafone told a customer to shut up. The question they need to ask themselves is this: would they tell a customer to shut up if he were standing in front of them, complaining face to face. Chances are, no matter how tempted they might be, they would control themselves, listen, and try and mollify the customer.

You see that’s what happens in a conversation.

When brands and companies continue to treat social media as a method of communication — a one way street, where they can “engage customers” (read “get customers to click the like button”), this is what could well happen to them.

Three lessons for brands:

1. Publishing has been democratized. Everybody online is a publisher with the power to reach millions of people. Everybody. Having more money doesn’t automatically mean you can out-publish an individual.

2. Don’t tell people you don’t like to shut up by sending them legal notices. If a customer is complaining, you need to listen and either choose to respond if he’s genuine, or ignore the guy if he’s making a mountain out of a non-existent molehill.

3. You can’t afford to not be on social media. And you can’t let advertisers tell you what to do. Advertisers sell. They communicate. They don’t know the first thing about a conversation — because that’s not how they’ve been trained. In fact, most social media agencies operate like ad agencies — they talk marketing speak “reach”, “impact” etc. Wake up and smell the coffee: it’s a conversation. And you, the brand, is a participant in a conversation. Behave like you would if you were at a meeting: don’t shout, don’t ignore what others are saying, listen, and respond.

How hard is that?

Very. Most marketeers and advertisers are trained from day one to think about communication aimed at selling and brand building. Their tools are mass-media vehicles that lots of people consume, or “interact with”. I’ve always wondered what that means — interaction. Press a button and hear a sound. So what! The answer, normally, is couched in a sentence that includes the phrase: “brand recall”.

Here’s my take on it — it works.

But, it doesn’t work everywhere. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

If everybody’s a publisher, what you need to become is a reporter. You need to think editorial NOT advertorial.

Welcome to my world.