Are customers really empowered by social media?
I read a rather interesting article in Forbes, where a famous person posted about her problems with maytag on twitter and her blog and as a result got Maytag to fix the washer that they originally weren't going to fix. What this situation and others like it continues to demonstrate is that any person who has a sufficient number of followers will also have corresponding social influence with those followers.
Some people would argue that social media empowers customers in general and I do agree with that notion, when it comes to being able to do research and get opinions from your network, but I also find that the social influence a person has is dictate in large part by how many followers a person has. If I complain about maytag on several social media sites, I might get a response, but if someone has a one million followers, as this person evidently did, then she will definitely get a response, because what she says will motivate action in many more people.
The fact is that while social media can empower consumers and allow them to share information about companies, and complain about those companies, the influence to get a company to respond has to be large enough to actually get that company to take notice. The only time that really differs is if a company is actively proactive in social media and makes a point to respond to issues as they arise instead of waiting for someone influential enough to come along and stir up a lot of people.
It may seem rather cynical to note that only people who have lots of followers get the kind of response that the person in the article received, but in similar cases, when a company has been prompted to respond it has occurred because the person complaining has lots of followers and has issued a call to action that has started to impact a company.
So are customers really empowered by social media? In the sense that they can do research and get information from other people they are, but in terms of complaining, unless you can find someone who has sufficient influence with a lot of other people, its fair to say that a customer continues to have the average amount of influence on companies, which is to say very little. Your best way to change that is to accrue followers and develop enough of a relationship and reputation with them so that they will act when you complain.
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