Alienating your customers...Be Careful!
Business marketing through the social media has been and continues to be adopted at high velocity. There is no denying the benefits of capturing the customers eye however there is also potential for creating a chaotic annoying whirlwind of unwanted information and most importantly destroying consumer trust.
One of the key motivators that lead individuals to become involved with personal spaces and online social networks (Vogt & Knapman, 2007) is the need for friendship and belonging. As a result companies are strategically befriending individuals through social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Interestingly, research reveals (Kelly, 2008) customers are able to sense the lack of insincerity and are less comfortable with larger organizations befriending them as it seemed false. Further being contacted by total strangers on line is perceived as scary (Barnes 2006). This voyeuristic behavior is considered by the consumer as a breach of privacy.
So what does this all mean? It means we are faced with an ethical dilemma because the behavior of the companies applying befriending social networking strategies, do not marry with the clients perceptions of privacy. Now we know in reality the matter of privacy with these public diaries is a farce but through the consumers eyes the companies’ behavior is a violation of their personal boundaries. The customer views it as “who invited you into my conversation?” Why? Because they believe their conversations are private. It all comes down to trust.
I recently attended a presentation by a social media/ networking expert for a global healthcare company. He explained how the company was employing surveillance mechanisms to analyse and monitor patient’s social networking conversations in order to improve customer service. He provided an example of a patient who was noted by the hospital CEO to be complaining about their hospital room to a friend on Facebook. The CEO decided to approach the patient’s bedside making reference to the conversation and offered the solution of changing rooms. Although initially shocked by the behavior according to the guest presenter the patient was extremely grateful and valued the interaction.
The questionis though, how does he really know? Attribution theory refers to a number of psychological theories that describe how people explain the causes of behavior. It is a complex phenomenon. How could the expert really tell customer service had been improved? The patient who was unwell and in a vulnerable position could have been completely freaked out by the encounter and just told the CEO what they wanted to hear. The fact is without solid psychological research or measurements of desired business outcomes the expert’s assumption of improved customer service and better therapeutic outcomes is false. We simply do not know.
The most important point to be drawn from this example I believe is; to be careful. One quarter of this global hospital company’s business is in private mental health services. Employing surveillance tools and implementing befriending strategies for people who are unwell (often related to some sort of trauma by others), is a recipe for disaster. A Facebook message or unexpected bedside visit from the hospital CEO is not going to promote the therapeutic outcome of someone who lives with paranoid schizophrenia.
So what do we learn from this? Customer perceptions matter and trust is imperative for business. Is it ethically ok for companies to violate an individual’s personal boundaries due to a difference in knowledge and perception regarding privacy? And long term what will be the impact of these marketing strategies? For now we are not sure. Newly emerging research is indicating a change in consumer perception and behavior; with privacy a recipe for disaster….so make sure you understand the emotional vulnerability ofyour customers...and beCareful?