Elaine Young, a professor of digital and social media marketing at Champlain College in Burlington, offers suggestions for behavior on social media on Monday, March 5, 2018.
GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS
Jay Peak General Manager Steve Wright invites incoming guests to email him with any issues.
“And believe me, they do,” Wright said in a recent interview.
Consider, for example, this email from early February:
“Mr Wright, thanks for you sending your email as a place I can complain to. I drove here 7 hours, skied pow all day and I want to soak in a hot tub. The hot tubs were being cleaned and I don’t want to wait for clean hot tubs. What are you going to do for me?
“It’s 4p and you have until 4:30p and then I take you and your resort apart on Facebook or other places. I will accept a 50% discount to my trip if you can’t comply. You’re officially ‘on the clock’ as we say in my buziness (sic)”
For businesses today, the threat to be taken apart on Facebook is not an idle one.
Nicole Ravlin, a partner at the Burlington public relations firm People Making Good, said social media is not optional for businesses.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, the way business has progressed with social media, you can’t not participate in social media as a business now,” Ravlin said. “Receiving feedback and showing that you’re listening is really important. You do have to engage and participate and demonstrate that you’re responsive.”
Letters are dead
Businesses run a virtual gauntlet of online reviews and instant feedback on their customer service and products.
“People aren’t writing letters any more,” Ravlin said. “Feedback is coming via social media in the form of rating systems — TripAdvisor, Yelp, Booking.com and all the other rating sites. You can now rate businesses on Google, on Facebook.”
And make no mistake, Ravlin says, if the negative reviews begin to stack up, it will affect a business. Ravlin suggests looking for themes in the bad reviews to determine if there are issues that need to be addressed.
“In terms of addressing it online, you can turn it around by participating, responding to each review,” Ravlin said.
Nearly every site has a mechanism for businesses to respond to the reviews.
“It’s really important to watch your tone,” Ravlin said. “You’re communicating in public with your customer, you have to ensure that it’s appropriate. If you can move them off social media to address things with them by a phone call or back-and-forth emails, that’s the best situation. Or even meet with them.”
That’s exactly what Wright did with the disgruntled hot tub user, after having a “somewhat colorful exchange” via email, Wright said.
“We ended up meeting, which is how I like these things to go, and he apologized,” Wright said.
Wright said he gave the upset customer a 15 percent discount.
All about tone
Jay Peak has long struck an irreverent tone in its advertising, which gives the resort some leeway when dealing with complaining customers, said Elaine Young, professor of digital and social media marketing at Champlain College.
“Jay might be a little snarky and it would fit within their brand image,” Young said.
Other companies must avoid the snark, however.
“Say I got an IBM computer — taking myself way back — and I was unhappy with it,” Young said. “You would never see a brand like IBM being snarky. It depends very much on how the brand is perceived and how it wants to be perceived.”
There are times when the threat of a social media “takedown” can cause a business to bend over backwards a bit too far, according to John George-Wheeler, manager of Patagonia Burlington and Vermont Trailwear in Waterbury Center.
George-Wheeler recounted his staff dealing with an out-of-state customer who discovered a security tag still attached to a Patagonia jacket when he returned home.
“Totally our fault,” George-Wheeler said.
Staff offered to send the customer a prepaid packing slip to return the jacket, have the tag removed and ship it back, but the customer demanded a new jacket instead. Then the customer attempted to remove the tag without the benefit of the proper tool.
The customer was given a store credit for the value of the damaged jacket anyway, in part because of a threat to trash the store on social media.
“It’s impressionable on so many different people,” George-Wheeler said of social media. “One hundred people can say 100 good things, or even OK things, but if one negative thing is said, that’s what people focus on.”
After staying at a Scotland hostel an unhappy guest wrote a negative review on Facebook and met the wrath of the owner. The comment war is going viral, with many people showing up just to see how far it’ll go.
Still, George-Wheeler said next time around, in a situation similar to the errant security tag issue, Patagonia Burlington will “stick to our guns a little more.” George-Wheeler said he would offer to cover the cost of repairing the jacket, but would not offer a store credit for a new jacket.
Steve Wright, who has been moderating chat rooms since 1993, when chat rooms were just starting, said loyal supporters are his secret weapon when it comes to negative social media.
“When guests react inappropriately, our fans and followers will usually do most of the heavy lifting,” Wright said. “Given how many people we have following us, and their relationship with the resort, they get very protective of us, and seem to have a low tolerance for people who are only trying to leverage us for discounts or grind their only personal axes.”
Contact Dan D’Ambrosio at 660-1841 or email@example.com.
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