What do #brands do with #franchises when consumers get #socialmedia angry?

A couple of recent events, both personal as well as public, have highlighted the challenges facing brands when it comes to franchises and customer service. Social media has given consumers the ability to interact directly with brands in ways which were never before possible. Today’s consumers expect a response from brands’ social media feeds, be it on Twitter or Facebook.

So what do brands do when they’re not in full control? How do brand communication teams deal with a consumer who is angry at a franchise? It’s an interesting question, especially for us consumers and comms professionals here in the Middle East.

A number of high profile examples have brought to light the limited scope for communications between consumers here in the Middle East and brands from locations outside of this region. The best case study would be the #noshaya Twitter-led campaign against the Kuwaiti-based retailer M.H. AlShaya. The call to boycott the company’s stores back in December was a response to AlShaya’s decision to stop providing cash refunds to customers throughout its stores.

AlShaya owns tens of franchises across the Gulf, including Top Shop, BHS, and H&M. It’s by far the largest retailer in the Middle East and thousands of Saudi consumers took to social media to vent their anger at AlShaya’s decision (for the full reasons behind the boycott please see this previous blog post).

After only a couple of hours of the campaign going live online activists started messaging the retail brands directly.

https://twitter.com/#!/Maialshareef/status/143021336778903553

Activists sent hundreds of messages to the official Twitter accounts of retailers who had franchise agreements with M.H.AlShaya. While I may be wrong (and I hope I am) I didn’t see a single response from these retailers. These retailers weren’t helped by promoting their own refund policies on their websites, most of which were much more generous that AlShaya and included cash refunds on returned products – the activists’ key demand.

Another consumer-led campaign which hit the headlines this week relates to a nightmare incident in Saudi involving a Toyota Landcruiser which was stuck in cruise control at a speed of 210 kilometers per hour. For those Arabic readers out there check out this harrowing news piece from Al-Hayat newspaper. #ToyotaCruiseFailSa has been a top trending hashtag in Saudi for the past two days.

Out of all the car brands in Saudi Toyota probably has the best reputation for reliability and customer care. Does Toyota rely on its distributor Abdul Lateef Jameel to step in a repair the public relations damage done (so far, there’s been little word from the distributor) or do they step in themselves to reassure Saudi drivers? The response of one Toyota Landcruiser owner is typical of those trending the topic on Twitter.

The Arabic translates as, “I haven’t used the cruise control since buying the car because of this story.”

To ask again, when do brands step in to protect their brand value? How or what do they agree with their franchise and distributor partners as to who is responsible for what? Social media has changed the communications sector in ways that few could have envisaged. One short but interesting article online has found that consumers who contact the brand via social media are much more likely to expect a response to their queries. Check out The State of Social Marketing 2011 – 2012 by Brian Solis

I wonder how many of us in communications are taking note of what is happening around us before the same thing happens to the brands that we are entrusted with?

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