Beware the vocal minority

21/08/2015 By Tim Sander

21 August 2015

Effective social media presence and activity has become an essential part of customer and public relationship management for businesses across all sectors. At BVA BDRC we recently investigated the public’s views and behaviours related to social media in the leisure sector, and got some really interesting findings.

We learned that some leisure categories are more successful than others on social media. Car rental companies are good at making customers feel really inspired, while in hospitality quite a few interactions are private conversations with individual hotels. We discovered which brands are more successful than others. There were plenty of other insights – read the free report here.

What struck me in particular was that the vast majority of social media interactions are entirely passive. 46% of British people have interacted with a leisure organisation on social media, but only a quarter of those interactions are active – involving asking a question, expressing dissatisfaction, entering competitions and so on.

The ‘loud typers’, as we termed them, are a vocal minority. That’s not news, but it can be easy to forget.

This idea came up in a recent conversation I had with a client (a train company), who had made some important changes to their service. These changes addressed a specific problem and made things better for most customers, but they also involved an inevitable compromise for some. We gathered some feedback from the client’s customers on their behalf and found that, yes, there were plenty of grumbles – but overall people were positive about the changes, saw the logic behind them, and were much happier with the overall service. But, at the same time the client was watching Twitter, and received what looked (on the face of it) to be a completely different message – Twitter was not happy.

Of course, both sets of feedback were right. But they were different: one came via objective market research, and the other from a channel where the people who contribute have an agenda – it’s well understood that if you’re generally satisfied with something you probably won’t say much about it (unless it has actually delighted you), but if you’re annoyed about something you probably will – and with a smartphone in your hand you can make that public.

(Incidentally, you might not be surprised to know that train companies get the worst of this kind of social media activity, with more people expressing dissatisfaction with train companies on social media than for the other sectors in our survey).

It’s vital to take notice of those loud typers, since as well as being a sizeable minority in their own right, they almost certainly influence others who are just watching the feeds – our survey showed that another quarter of social media users are ‘watchers’. But we need to remember that social media is a communication tool, not an insight tool – at least not on its own. It can give you a good understanding of what a segment of your customers are thinking, but that might not be the whole picture.

Social media is undoubtedly a crucial part of how organisations interact with and understand their customers, but it would be a mistake to make a business decision based on social media feedback like that received by my client recently – even if it does appear to be quite clear what people think. And of course there is no time for dawdling in social media, but it might be a mistake to respond too quickly. When Twitter is going crazy, with either a positive or negative sentiment, it’s important to take a step back, consider the context and the bigger picture, and then address the situation.