Category Archives: Social Insights

Follow Back Y’all

As I signed onto Twitter the other day and started my daily routine of following people who follow me, I noticed that the demographic of the Twitter population I follow has changed.

Perhaps an obvious reason is the amount of Twitterers I follow (5,500 something or other). At one point, I was following just my friends. Then I expanded my social Twitter circle and followed people I am interested in (i.e. social media, advertising, travel, sports… and possible Jersey Shore characters… but that’s besides the point).

I fell into what I thought a health pattern of following back the people who followed me – not just because I was being social but I also thought I might pick up some interesting new learns on the way.

But then it came to the point where I noticed the gargantuan amount of irrelevant content that was being pushed through my feed (“irrelevant” defined in terms of information that did not pertain to my own personal interests or values). Thus I began to ask myself: does reciprocity pay off on Twitter?

Well, to a certain extent it does. It becomes a game of ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ and a decent amount of information is exchanged on a one-to-many or many-to-many platform. Sounds like a good time gad by all, right?


From my own observations (that may also seem quite obvious to other Tweeps), when you start getting followers that hit around the 5,000 mark – or perhaps even earlier – the content becomes overwhelming and you eventually reach that “digital-age-old” question of quantity vs. quality.

In fact, there is so much content on Twitter that a lot of it seems like gibberish to me. You know, the “#FOLLOWBACK I ALWAYS FOLLOW BACK.” That’s great and all, but more of this content is becoming less relevant to me – or maybe I just can’t find relevant information in all this clutter.

But with every person that follows me, am I not being “social” if I do not follow them back? 

It is my personal duty to follow everyone who follows me, for the sake of respecting the social phenomenon on Twitter and for cherishing the idea of reciprocity.

But there is a point where the line must be drawn, and that is perhaps not just personal relevance (which many of you practice), but more so of watching my reputation.

I’m all for travellers, advertisers, hip hop artists, social media nerds who want to follow me and very open to other ideas that may spark my interest or fuel curiosity, but I start to get a little hesitant when someone completely out of left-field (and inappropriate) follows me… if you catch my drift.

Although one of the main ideas of social media is being social and responding to people accordingly, there comes a point at which amidst all the social clutter, one might consider re-evaluating their contribution and value to their social niche. One also might consider a heavy gate-keeping.

My tweet may not be relevant to a particular audience, but it sure is valuable (I hope!) and respectful to the social circle I am a part of. So you can judge for yourself where I fit on your social graph…

Critic? Nah.

Crowd-pleaser? Maybe.

Passionate social media nerd? Most definitely.

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Made for Social

What makes a campaign or an advertisement social? What is it about social that is so shareable?

These thought-provoking questions came up during a conversation I had with Proximity‘s Social Media Strategist, David Jones. He gave me a good idea to write a post on this subject, and so here I am, sitting in front of my computer screen and scratching my head. What makes things social and thus shareable?

So I drew out a mind map and came up with one of the many options of what social media is:

From looking at just this one mind map, a lot of factors play into making something social. One could suggest the following process (among others):

1. The content viewed, listened to or read moves people in an emotional way and makes it relevant, impressionable and creative to them.

2. One person feels the need to connect with others (who perhaps have similar tastes or are curious about their reactions) and thus shares with them or collaborates on user-generated content with others.

3. Content it distributed throughout the media landscape.

4. The content is eventually viewed by others and becomes, in some instances, an element of pop culture – so much so that it is enough to share with hundreds, thousands or millions more.

Let’s take a look at Volkswagen‘s “The Dog Strikes Back” commercial aired during the Superbowl, for example. You know, that beautiful dog that sees himself as overweight and subjects himself to an intense workout routine and diet to be able to run alongside the car?

This commercial has received 9,899,009 YouTube hits from that one link so far. One reason could be that we love the determination we see in the animal and connect some similarities to our own human behaviour (what science calls anthropomorphism).

But the more obvious reason is the ending, where Volkswagen takes us back to last year’s memories of the Darth Vader kid thinking he has superpowers.

The commercial makes a pun on what is essentially an inside-joke to those who saw the “prequel” – a conversation held between a few ‘people’ in a bar who argue that the dog is “funnier than the Darth Vader kid” (who later feels the wrath of Darth Vader for making that comment).

Not only was the original commercial a cute and memorable idea to connect the kid with the car, but the commercial became so lovable, so shareable, that YouTube hits have reached 50,836,938 to date. Even more, Volkswagen even created a teaser for the anticipation of the sequel release!

Volkswagen essentially made their way into pop culture through its viral-worthy content and treated their audience as movie-goers. Viewers enjoyed the content as perhaps humorous, cute, smart and real to some (as several parents may have connected on the same idea that their children pretend to have powers too… and sometimes let them think that they actually do).

Thus I think human connection, a real one, is at the root of what is social and what is shareable. Connection and the desire to seek out others who have similar tastes and needs (a term some sociologists would label as homophily) is one factors that drives virality.

As humans, we want to feel like we are in this – life – together, that we are not alone. This may even go back to centuries ago where we were bred to believe that this connection is the key to survival – it’s human nature!

But adding procreation into the mix may be stretching the idea a little too far (ya think?). Alongside human connection and emotion as part of what makes content social and shareable, I would even like to add the concept of participaction to the mix. People no longer want to just be a recipient of the brand, but they want to feel that they are actually a part of it.

The audience sees something they like and may decide to modify, add or delete aspects of a social concept to call it their own and share it with their friends (i.e. crowd-sourcing and mash-ups from user-generated content). They become the brand itself, or at least an extension of it.

Sometimes we want to be the first ones to say “I saw this first!” or “hey check out what I did to that viral hamster on a piano video!” Thus a sense of belonging and recognition builds makes its way into the picture.

There are several factors that play a part in making content sociable and shareble, including the ones just mentioned. Whether it’s something that tugs at our heart strings or want to simply belong to a project that is greater than ourselves, we want to be an active participant in creating that connection.

Whichever reason, just make sure not to mention that the dog being funnier than the Vader kid…

What do you think makes a campaign or ad social and shareable? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Social Media Predictions For 2012

Well ladies and gents, it’s been a good run – especially for social media marketing. Social media has made leaps and bounds in respect to shaping the way we communicate, and you might even call it revolutionary.

Here are some expected changes for social media in the new year from both the perspective of myself and Awareness’s 2012 Social Marketing and New Media Predictions:

Real-Time Campaigning

Social media has given web users the ability to communicate instantly with each other. Now, it is up to marketers to keep up with the social conversations.

Micro-blogging, as already seen with Twitter, is going to soar with the help of real-time campaigning. Newly introduced micro-blogging sites, such as Tout and Keek, are paving an easier and faster way for more occurrences of real-time campaigning.

Take the Occupy Wall St. movement, for example. This movement began with a simple Tweet and a blog post. The result? A revolutionary spark in real-time social communication. Marketers are going to have to find ways of leveraging real-time conversations and incorporating them into their own campaigns for a more compelling message and branding scheme.

Crowd Sourcing and Earned Media

Similar to real-time campaigning, brands and marketers will benefit largely from working with their audience as opposed to simply buying their attention. Awareness labels this as a bi-directional approach in which increased activity toward crowd funding and crowd sourcing of ideas converge with the ideas of marketers.

Marketers will no longer rely on media to create audiences for them, but instead play upon their interests. Seth Godin writes of a similar notion in Tribes, where marketers will be locating audiences on the Web, listening and understanding their desires, and both guiding and delivering them to an avenue in which they can attain whatever it is that they need.

Quality Content is King

The old saying “Content is King” is, well, old. The focus is no longer on creating a lot of content for the sake of gaining more readers, but creating appropriate and personally relevant content that actually means something to their audience.

Marketers must begin catering better (and by better I mean more specifically), to their audience with keyword precision. Because the focus is now on niche marketing and segmentation, likes and dislikes are being narrowed down to more specific tastes. Marketing is no longer about how much content you can put out to attract your audience, but what tools and keywords are being used.

Improved Search Engine Optimization 

This one goes hand in hand with “quality content is king.” Content will be enhanced with better keyword research, thus increasing a marketer’s chances of locating and reaching their relevant target audience.

Improving SEO strategies will increase trust between among social media marketers. Although user’s information will remain exposed to not only their friends but as well as advertisers, this information can help marketers better understand their audience and thus provide them with more precise deliverables that address their specific needs. This can be achieved by creating quality content.

Better Customer Relationship Management

Better CRM can lead to four vital stages in the marketing plan: hitting the relevant audience with the relevant message at the relevant time and at the relevant place (notice how many times the word relevant is used!).

Locating the appropriate audience may provide a bit of a challenge, considering there are numerous venues (i.e. social networks and websites) where individuals are participating in. Marketers will have to keep a close eye on customer movement online and the types of media they are using to communicate in order to cater to them more effectively.

Metrics and Return on Investment

Whether you are using Radian6, HootSuite, Spredfast or any other time of social media content management system, there remains a multitude of CMS for capturing your campaign’s metrics. Although information is being aggregated through a variety of systems, they are all fragmented.

In the upcoming year, marketers will need to manage their metrics into one solution in order to collect, analyze and identify the appropriate metrics to direct them into making thorough and well-thought decisions.

Integration of Traditional and Non-Traditional Advertising Tactics

A stronger campaign incorporates both traditional and non-traditional marketing strategies. The challenge thus for both forms is creating an integrated and cohesive marketing plan.

Due to a greater demand for consistency among both avenues, a campaign will inevitably require a larger social media marketing team. Social media campaigning may thus become more complicated, but not if you have a set of diligent (and multi-tasking) individuals to lead a meticulous strategy.

Online Recommendation Culture

And with the advancement of all that has been mentioned, more first-person perspectives are sure to soar in the upcoming year. Although brand advocacy and word-of-mouth have already made their marks among advertising agencies and marketers, a more trustworthy recommendation community will be instilled among social networks.

As you can see, social media is moving in a direction that could develop and transform into a revolutionary trend, more so than it already has. Although these are merely a few predictions for the upcoming year, we may also witness and be surprised by something that was never thought of before (Occupy Wall St. anyone?).

If I failed to mention an important social media prediction for 2012, I’d love to hear your thoughts on where social media marketing is headed.

See you in the new year!

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Social Whores vs. Social Bores

Having too many friends on Facebook means one thing; having too little means another.

Is it fair to say that the more Facebook friends you have, the more popular you are and the more likely you rule the social realm (online and offline)?

Or, is it valid to say that the less amount of friends you have, the less socially capable you are and thus not as popular as Zack Morris on Saved by the Bell?

Elizabeth Donovan, author of Friend Me: Surviving Popularity in the Age of Facebook at Psychology Today, looks at the social systems of youth and argues, “For many teens Facebook’s friend list has become the golden opportunity to achieve acceptability from their peers.”

One student, who created a Facebook page of his own, claimed that popularity rules the schools and titled his fan page as Popularity in my school is determined by the amount of Facebook friends. Facebook users are even adding acquaintances and strangers as “friends,” who are more likely looked at as a number than a human being – and all for the sake of being labeled as the popular kid in school.

Popularity among teens is no longer an abstract rumor, it’s a social fact. – Elizabeth Donovan

According to a recent study including 176 Facebook participants, performed by Dr Daniel DeNeui, the more Facebook friends you have, the more popular you are and the less likely you are to be considered a loner by your peers.

DeNeui also found that although the average user have 120 Facebook friends, popularity peaks at 302 friends. Anything more or less than that throws you into the category of the socially superior vs. the socially inept.

But isn’t all this brouhaha about popularity somewhat fake? If strangers are befriending others just to add to their social count (Twitter is another enabler of social promiscuity), it seems to me that users are masking the truth (about themselves and what/who they represent) in the age old conflict of appearance vs. reality (Shakespeare anyone?).

Thus, is there any value (for marketers) in the socially capable vs. the socially isolated? Perhaps the more important question to ponder is does our online social status, in any way, affect our status offline?

What do you think?

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Social Media’s Effects on Network Structure

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, argues that the future for individuals lies in niche-markets, as communities are becoming more and more specialized.

With the ability to access the Internet any time, anywhere, most social conversations are occurring within core networks about specific topics of interest.

The most obvious examples are the people are seeking employment on LinkedIn, befriending friends of friends on Facebook, and following and being followed by strangers on Twitter, asking questions and getting favours (including asking for organ donations).

As the Internet connects and permits all types of people to engage within these specialized networks, network diversity is also increasing. Our networks are becoming increasingly expansive and at a faster rate than the traditional/physical meet-and-greet route, and people are reaching out across various platforms.

Network users are following friends, strangers and mixing in with different community forums. As a result, the mode of communication has changed the way we communicate across physical and online barriers.

With face-to-face communication, we encounter strangers and acquaintances everyday. But this physical encounter may require more time and energy. For example, there is more time taken in joining or leaving clubs due to the physical necessities to go see people and visit places. Our “real-life” structure is somewhat limited and less mobile.

With the Internet, however, we encounter strangers and acquaintances, but we have more freedom to “move.” Through blogging, instant messaging, skype and other means of communicating on the Internet, we can casually slip into a conversation with so much ease (even with the possibility of going unnoticed), providing a sense of limitlessness.

How we communicate today did not seem feasible yesterday: our online networks have a lot less limitations than our physical ones. But is our online social networks really limitless? What are your other thoughts or comments on how social media has affected our communication network structure?

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Is Privacy a Right?

Everyone has a right to their own privacy, but individuals should be aware that there is always someone “watching” or monitoring their activity on the web, whether it is a friend or a marketing researcher -slightly creepy, I know.

So many of you creatives out there often partake in activities that allow you to contribute user-generated content or “immaterial labour,” a term coined by sociologist and social theorist Maurizio Lazzarato. In other words, online users can re-mix, mash, modify and add different elements to existing work online. It’s pretty sweet.

Although Internet users may (or may not) be aware of who is lurking around online, this crowd-source movement permits companies to use their work for business purposes and capitalize on them, often without monetary compensation or personal recognition.

Moreover, the amount of information that people share also depends on their comfort level with exposing themselves to others, thus people can control this issue by monitoring the information they do share.

Another issue  is the performance factor. Some individuals may feel a little too comfortable and exaggerate  the truth (or downright lie) about themselves to seem more popular to their peers and share way more than necessary. Conversely, others do not share enough personal information, thus decreasing chances of utilizing relevant information in a study.

But is this what our information is being used for? Studies?! (Cue horrific scream).

I don’t mean to make anyone here feel like a test rat, but in a sense, this is what is happening. Although your friends in your online social networks might be innocently creeping a photo or two or you at that party last weekend (which you posted because let’s not deny the truth – you looked damn good), marketers are also on the lookout for any personal information you reveal that may give them a lead to sell you another snuggie. Yikes!

On one hand, you could argue that “Hey, well that’s swell. This just means that marketers and advertisers are catering to my needs better!” On the other hand, others consider this a violation of their privacy. But with the Internet, there are certain rules to expect and play by, right? It’s a give and take relationship is what I’m trying to get at – unless you have something to hide.

So then why do people make their information available for public use? Perhaps they do not understand the consequences (or do not care for them). If this is the case, what is privacy worth, then? Perhaps more importantly, what is information worth online?

This is where I believe traditional forms of advertising and marketing won’t dry up, since much of the information online can become obsolete (due to information inaccuracy, biases and data error). For online research to seem worth it, there needs to be a healthy balance of traditional market research to evaluate information accuracy through what Robert Kozinets calls netnographic research, or online ethnographic research. In-depth interviews, focus groups and ZMET processes are great ways to confirm valid content and recognize plain old gibberish.

In the end, both parties are responsible for their own values. Online users should be careful with the information they post online and read/understand privacy statements (if they want to be careful about themselves), and researchers must respect the privacy rights of the respondent by asking permission of use and respecting confidentiality.

That’s what I said. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Just a little bit.

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Social Media Saviors

Amit Gupta, a tech entrepreneur recently diagnosed with an acute form of leukaemia, is reaching out to family, friends and strangers to find an appropriate bone marrow donor to help save his life. But he isn’t using the traditional route to search for a request.

Gupta found a way to test the strength, social responsibility and the altruistic character of the online community by asking social network users to contribute to his life-saving cause.

As an Indian-American, Gupta’s chances of finding a donor are 1 in 20,000, due to the under presentation of South Asians in the US donor registry. Thus reaching out to anyone willing to help across as many social media platforms as possible would hopefully increase his chances of finding a donor.

So far, Gupta has reached an impressive 17,700 on Twitter, 13,000 supporters on Facebook (with 422 subscribers), and a plethora of group support systems on Flickr, Tumblr and several other social media platforms.

With his followers, Gupta began organizing “swab parties,” where people responding to Tweets, Facebook messages and the like met in physical tech centres, including Google and Facebook. At these gatherings, prospective donors swab the inside of their mouths to collect their DNA and the information is sent to a testing lab to be registered in the national bone marrow registry, where they can be called upon at any time a match is found.

But relying on others, particularly strangers, has it’s downfalls. Calling on an  anonymous donor who showed up to your swab party a month earlier may have decided not to donate after all, since there is no personal connection for him/her to you and your situation. While some are more altruistic than others and donate for the sake of a good cause, others may not feel as comfortable with the idea of donating to complete strangers.

On the positive side, the ability for online social activity transcending into the physical realm has proved to be an enabler for turning people’s remote dreams into actual realities. Society has reached a point where we can call on strangers from a distance, even with a sense of urgency. In many ways, we are putting a lot of trust in our community and relying on its ability to lend a helping hand – whether it is to ask your fans to ‘like’ something or to ask your fans to help save your life.

David Hunt, chief medical officer of the national co-ordinator for health technology in the US Department of Health and Human Services, offers perhaps one of the more significant features of social networking:

The wonderful thing about social networking is it can create that sense of trust between elements of communities that have traditionally been relatively marginalised.

The diversity of respondents and the ability to congregate them under one roof (both friends and strangers of different nationalist) – and the speed in which we can do so – is quite remarkable. Before, this might not have even been thought of, and the time to complete such a feat would take a lot longer. But thanks to social media for being, well, social, people of various ages, races and connections all over the world will be asking others to help save their lives, one tweet at a time.

Based on Kate Dailey’s and Matt Danzicoh’s Amit Gupta and the Social Media Search for a Cure.

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Are We Social Sex Addicts?

I recently had the pleasure of viewing a website called Damn You Auto Correct, which posts screen shots of texts displaying epic auto correct failures. And I mean EPIC.

DYAC displays page after page of hilarious texts exchanged between mothers and their sons, fathers and their daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends. What seems like an innocent conversation happening between two people turns out instead to take a spin around the sexual carousel.

After reading through a decent amount of text messages that left me hurled over the couch with laughter, I came to realize that most of the auto correct errors were sexual, one streaming right after the other. However, I think it would be helpful for my viewers (and for the sake of my squeaky-clean reputation) to add the following warning: viewer discretion is advised.

One question that kept running through my mind was why? Why are most of these social conversations about sex? Could it be that it is just so happens to be the most popularly published theme on the website?

A more important observation is that the auto correct is replacing words with a sexual nature in the first place. It could be that most of us are just human and enjoy a little sexual innuendo once in a while (ok, well maybe a lot). Maybe this fact in itself lends us the idea that we are just naturally sexual creatures and are trying to find means of expressing our love and desire for others – even if it is by an accidental slip of the finger.

And with the help of social media, mobile phones, tablets and other social avenues, these devices all act as extensions of ourselves. We post whatever content we want, to whom we want and when we want – whether it’s said aloud or posted online both publicly, privately or anonymously.

We assume that like face-to-face communication, online and wireless communication is private (granted that no one is eavesdropping nearby or the person you are sharing secrets with pinky-sweared not to tell anyone). We are more susceptible to information invasion than we let ourselves to believe – and some of us don’t seem to care.

With the rise of these different communication avenues, people are becoming fearless about intimacy. Yes, sex is still selling. Even with the risks we hear of people and celebrities getting their phones hacked or e-mails broken into, we still seem to indulge in the surreptitious act of social intimacy 2.0.

But again I ask, why? If the risk of infiltration is there, as well as the possibility of a typing mishap occurring (that we accidentally send a naughty note to our mother instead of our boyfriend – God forbid), we embrace the possible outcome of absolute horror following the push of that sly little “send” button.

I’d argue that we might be placing too much trust in social networking devices to deliver these secretive messages. People are making quick, rash decisions and pushing the “send” button too quickly without checking over their content and without thinking of the possible consequences of embarrassment (and sometimes utter shame), which could be detrimental to themselves and their relationships with other people.

On the flip side, many of us may just have one of those ‘but-it-will-never-happen-to-me’ dispositions. Until it does, and you’re left scrambling to put those fallen pieces that were once your perfect life, back together. It can be a harsh world out there, I know.

The alternative question is simply: Who cares? There’s a whole website about people’s mis-texts and mis-sexts that are providing great entertainment for everyone!” 

This last question may very well be the end to all interrogations I have on DYAC’s numerous sexting accounts, as I do not have an answer to the rest of them. But maybe I’m overlooking things. Perhaps we should just stick to the “who cares?” question, because whether it is a slip of the finger or a slip of the tongue, sometimes auto correct, simply put, just sucks.

Case and pint.

Cases and pints.

I mean.

Case and point.


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Social In-Game Advertising

Wonderful Pistachios has turned themselves into smart food. Not just the nut, but the brand itself.

Thursday morning, in collaboration with Wonderful Pistachios, Rovio‘s popular Angry Birds game has transformed into its first branded online game: The Hunt for the Golden Pistachio. 

The game, released on, invites gamers to not only destroy pigs, but to crack open Wonderful Pistachio nuts.

The Rovio and Pistachio collaboration illustrates why having your brand partner up with a popular online game is one of the smartest moves an advertiser can make:

1. A Captured, Engaged Audience

Brand loyals who are hooked on a particular online game have your full, undivided attention. They’re in the game, they’re in the zone, and they’re participating in the quest to win to the ultimate prize: your product. In the eyes of marketers, this mean they are signing in to win.

2. Increased Awareness in Niche Markets

If you need to get creative about getting your name out there, turning to in-game advertising is another avenue to take to increase your brand’s awareness. Your brand becomes a part of the game’s objective, which exposes it to a particular niche market that you may not have otherwise been able to reach.

3. Consistent Branding That Leads to Better Recall and Recognition

When you have an audience that is totally immersed in a game that has a particular purpose, the time and attention devoted to accomplishing the game’s objective warms up their frontal lobes (i.e. the memory and cognition portions of the brain). Such concentration devoted to your brand is more likely to increase familiarization and create a link between the brand name and its performance.

4. Sharing Capabilities for Increased WOM and Virality

The beauty about social media gaming is the likelihood of generating word-of-mouth advertising, which is in itself more authentic than an advertiser trying to sell you an product. Friends who are playing and enjoying the game may suggest to their friends to get in on the fun, who will then spread the word to their friends through their social networks, and so on and so forth.

5. Unique Campaigns

In-game advertising is a unique approach to add to a campaign. Wonderful Pistachios began with a quirky set of characters, including displaying Jersey Shore‘s Snooki with a tanning bed, the Winklevoss twins cameo, and lets we not forget, the Keyboard Cat. Adding a popular social media element to your campaign offers you an edge and separates you from your competitors.

Now this is what I call smart food!

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@UnitedAirlines are you even listening?

In my last semester at Texas, I took a Marketing course titled “Customer Insights” (it is just as it sounds). Throughout the semester, we were given the assignment of keeping a blog and updating it every one to two weeks based on a particular assignment provided by the professor.

One assignment required us to write about a positive or negative brand experience that had a meaningful impact, and I was almost too smitten to write about my sub par experience with United Airlines. Sorry folks, but this story does not have a happy ending. My encounter went something like this:

My first time flying United Airlines was a year ago. I got on the plane, put my luggage in the overhead compartment after finding my seat and got settled in with a good book (I highly recommend Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer), until it was brought to my attention by another passenger that I was sitting in his seat.

Just as I got up to switch seats, a flight attendant barked, “Excuse me ma’am, but you need to stay in your seat.” I told her that there was a seat mix-up and just settling into the other aisle. She gave me a scolding look and said, “Well then you will be needing to do so quickly because the plane is about to take off… Could you please hurry so we can all get into our seats?” Her sour face made frightened passengers avoid making eye contact with her, never mind asking her for water.

I figured, however, that this was my first experience with United Airlines and everyone has their off days, so maybe it was just that one flight attendant that had a bad day and couldn’t possibly represent the entirety of the company. But I spoke too soon.

One passenger was playing loud music but had his ear phones on, so no one was really bothered – except the flight attendant, who poked the man on the shoulder, scolded and embarrassed him. When he came around with water, he did not offer any to the gentleman playing the music. Even after the passenger complained to the pilot (who was somewhat understanding), the flight attendant refused to apologize and walked off.

And now for the grand finale. The last time I flew with them was last New Year’s (my parents had booked the flight for us). As we were yet again late for boarding and takeoff (their usual routine), a very angry flight attendant started screaming at the entire cabin to start moving seats to balance the plane. At this point, I was more scared of her yelling and pointing at us to switch seats as fast as possible than the possibility of having a lopsided plane…

My reaction to these experiences (second to the boycott), went something like this:

Surprise, surprise, there was no response and I continue on with my pledge to avoid the United brand in many ways as I can.

Rant over.

To be clear, this post was not a space created for the sake of crying over a bad United Airlines experience. Not this time. Let’s bring it back to social media. If we are to examine the definition of social media, in simple and blunt terms, the obvious dead give-away is the word social, which is what people often take for granted when managing their social network accounts. Case and point? United Airlines.

I cannot tell you the amount of negative (and harsh) Tweets and Facebook comments I’ve read from both friend and strangers about the bad customer service/lack thereof United seems to be striving for. Most complaints begin with customers reaching out – and lashing out – to United through social media (if face-to-face doesn’t suffice), with the result of their concerns being ignored.

The idea of social media is being social. It’s not about the ratio of how many people are following you and how many people you follow on Twitter, or the amount of friends ‘liking’ your wall post. It’s about the genuine, naked interaction and engagement between companies and their customers. At least pretend to be an emotional human being that has empathy for others instead of a cold, invisible corporation hiding behind a big, red curtain somewhere in Kansas (props to those who got the Wizard of Oz metaphor).

Even at the micro level, companies really have to be careful about who is managing customer service relations, including their content management systems on social networks. I was really impressed to read a positive experience a customer had with Dunkin’ Donuts. The gentleman recounts, “No sooner had I grabbed my coffee from the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru attendant, it spilled all over my white dress shirt and brand-new car. An improperly secured lid was about to impede my morning meetings.” And so, he needed to vent:

In 140 characters of a Tweet, Mr. Lerner received a reply in five minutes, notifying him that @DunkinDonuts was following him on Twitter: “Five more minutes and they had tweeted at me to send a direct message with my phone number. Five minutes later they called, asking to know which Dunkin’ Donuts this happened at and what my experience had been. They took my address and a week later I received a $10 gift card.”

This is what we call not only great customer service, but it reflects the definition of what social media is. Listening. Understanding. Responding Appropriately. Following up. Not only do the rules of marketing apply to the Web (the customer is always right), but there was an immediate response to fix whatever was ailing the customer at a given point in time.

Handling negative reviews in this way helps to turn complaints into a new product, service or brand experience to make it more enjoyable, which makes you more reliable, responsible and trustworthy as a brand. Not only will you be able to build and maintain a strong relationship between you brand and the customer, but you will hopefully retain your loyal customers.

We could all learn a thing or two from both United Airlines and Dunkin’ Donuts experiences – and it’s not just learning that you have to pay $5 for that jelly-filled snack on the flight next time. If this attempt at reaching out to United through a social venue doesn’t get their attention, I might have to resort to making one of these:

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The Positive Side of Negative Reviews

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