25 December 2015

Social Media – the fine line in intent

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The Victorian Taxi Association(VTA)’s “failed” social media campaign recently made headlines. News feeds were flooded with reports of how the campaign “backfired” and was an “epic fail”. A news site even went so far as to say that it was the “social media fail of the year”.

In the aftermath, the VTA has parted ways with the agency responsible for the campaign, just days after the campaign was launched. The VTA released a statement stating that the “campaign concept and delivery did not match our intention”, but asserted that the organisation wanted to “connect with customers and listen to their feedback in order to build a better service.”

Now that the hullaballoo has somewhat receded, it is probably timely to reflect on whether this campaign actually went awry, and whether in the bigger scheme of things, the VTA was deserving of all the mud that has been slung at them in the media.

I don’t profess to be a social media expert in any sense of the word, but I think the intent of the whole campaign deserves some scrutiny. The VTA themselves expressly stated that the point of the campaign was to connect with customers and build community engagement. If this is so, then all comments – good or bad – should in fact be valuable in helping it to be “a better service”. To their credit, this is something that the VTA themselves have alluded to in the statement they released.

However, it seems to me that the VTA have self-inflicted their woes by claiming all in one breath that they were listening to their customers, but that the means in which they have encouraged this and succeeded in doing so – purely in the amount of feedback they received – needs a “thorough review”.
In my opinion, there is a grey area where the line is drawn between social media marketing (ie: good stories and good stories only – god forbid anything that may remotely damage our reputation be publicly discussed) and community engagement (ie: good or bad, your opinions matter and we will be open about it for everyone to engage in). With this campaign, did the VTA want to challenge their nemesis Uber and build confidence in their brand, or did they actually want to engage their community online?

If it was the former, then the execution of the campaign was never going to work. The VTA were obviously already aware of some of the key issues that their customers were facing with their service, and presumably were trying to turn the negativity around by attempting to extract feel-good stories from their users. The issue with this premise is that the chances of any good stories emerging from a large proportion of dissatisfied customers was always going to be slim.

On the other hand, if the VTA wanted to build their community engagement, then in my opinion, the campaign was a massive success.

The trouble is that unfortunately – or rather, expectedly – the media has chosen to highlight the campaign bits that were “negative”, and this whole saga has suddenly turned into one big public relations disaster.

Some key thoughts on social media strategy and execution, as I mull over this particular case:
Always know your intent on social media. Are you wanting to engage your community, or are your social media efforts a branding exercise? There is a fine line between the two– don’t try to bundle both together in the hopes that something beautiful will emerge from the mix.

Know your audience’s perception of your organisation before you settle on a social media strategy. As we have seen, often times a customer base that doesn’t feel connected to your brand will breed more negativity in an open forum. This is fine if you are actually listening and wanting to engage your community online, but it could also do a lot of harm if your intent was different.

Listen and participate. To VTA’s credit, they have stated that their focus is now to address the feedback that they have received, and the CEO has committed to ensure that all passenger issues are captured.

Social media – there are many knowns, but also a whole lot of unknowns. It is a learning journey for all, and as much as the VTA has bumbled their way through this social media campaign, I give credit to them for taking customer feedback seriously and working on turning things around. 

Su grew up dreaming of being a journalist, dodging bullets and gunfire with a camera thrust in front of her reporting from a war zone. Having realised that she is not really as agile as she thought, she has settled for dodging cockroaches in metropolitan Sydney as her adrenaline fix. Su is inquisitive and loves a good challenge, which is why she has chosen to produce conferences at Akolade. In her spare time, Su likes to read, drink green tea, and fantasise about making the world a better place; getting rid of the need for war journalists entirely.

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