Oklahoma City mother Andrea Decker and her family learned about the power of social media in March, when they took to Twitter to complain about Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma's decision to deny their 18-year-old daughter Lorelei Decker a cancer therapy they believe could save her life.
Using the hashtag #ApproveLorelei, Oklahoma City residents sent hundreds of tweets venting their displeasure with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The insurance company later reversed its decision and approved a stem cell transplant to treat the teen's Hodgkin lymphoma.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma did not respond to a request for comment.
While social media makes it more difficult for a company to control its image online, Facebook and Twitter also give companies the opportunity to showcase positive interactions with customers, said Jay Spear, director of audience engagement for the Oklahoma Publishing Co., the parent company of The Oklahoman.
Whether a company develops a good rapport with customers online or a negative interaction spirals into a public relations nightmare all depends on how the business responds, Spear said.
“Social media doesn't change anything — all it does is to amplify how smart you are or how stupid you are,” he said.
Keep up with tweets
Like many other companies, OPUBCO monitors what customers are saying about it online, and tries to respond to customer complaints quickly — sometimes even before a customer goes directly to the company, Spear said.
“With social media, it's about being more proactive than reactive,” he said.
The worst thing a company can do is ignore online complaints, said Bill Handy, vice president for digital engagement for the Tulsa-based strategy firm Schnake Turnbo Frank | PR.
“I think the first thing businesses need to be doing is listening to those comments,” Handy said. “If someone had emailed or called or stood outside the business with a sign, then we would listen.”
Good with the bad
It also doesn't hurt for a business to encourage its customers to post their positive comments online if they have a good experience, he said.
“A lot of times, all these customers need is a conduit to do that,” Handy said.
If a company spots a trend of negative reviews from customers, it might be time to re-evaluate its business practices, Handy said.
While larger companies can spend lots of money on market research, social media can serve as an informal sounding board for a small-business owner, he said.
“One bad review is not the end of the world. But if you start to see them a lot, maybe there is an opportunity for change,” Handy said.
At a glance
Social media tips for businesses
• Have a crisis management plan for when customers vent online.
• Treat the customer with respect.
• Take all complaints seriously.
• Don't ignore or try to censor customer complaints online.
• Encourage customers who have a positive experience to share it online.