Facebook sponsored results: new possibilities for social complaining

By Todd Bacile | October 3, 2012

Facebook Search and Sponsored Search

Guest speakers are always welcome in my undergraduate e-Marketing class at Florida State University. Ryan Cohn, the Vice President of Social/Digital Operations for Ron Sachs Communications, was kind enough to share his time and his knowledge of social media marketing topics last week. Ryan is a wealth of social information. Anyone who has the opportunity to talk social media, advertising, or PR with him is truly fortunate. Ryan discussed Facebook’s sponsored results with my students. After reflecting on his discussion I see a possible correlation with social complaining. Let me explain below.

Facebook Sponsored Results

Ryan brought up a terrific point: there is a key difference between a person using a Facebook search and a Google search. A Facebook search is used typically when a person is searching for a specific person, page, or brand. In contrast, a Google search is used typically to find a large number of results for competing or similar products or brands. The key difference is specificity: Facebook searchers are usually looking for something specific.

Search specificity creates new opportunities with Facebook’s sponsored results. Sponsored search results are different from sponsored ads or stories, each of which appear on the right side of Facebook’s page or within the newsfeed. Sponsored search results are positioned within the search query results drop-down menu. This is an ideal option to use for brands to offer suggestions of brand-extensions or complementary products. For example, the screen shot below illustrates how a Facebook search for “Mitt Romney” produces a sponsored search result for “Paul Ryan”. Note the sponsored Ryan result – and a sponsored result for Bingo Blitz – are actually the first search results appearing before Romney’s actual page.

Facebook Sponsored Search result

There is another strategy brands can use with Facebook sponsored results: display a competing product or brand. For example, a Facebook search for the dating service “OKCupid” displays a sponsored result for a competing dating service “Match.com”. The screen shot below illustrates the sponsored result appearing before OKCupid’s organic result (thanks to TechCrunch for this image). Situations such as OKCupid and Match.com is where sponsored results get interesting! Positioning a competing brand not only adjacent to a Facebook search of a specific brand, but also appearing before the organic search result may play a factor during episodes of social complaining.

What is Social Complaining?

Social media has created a phenomenon I refer to as social complaining. Consumers have been able to complain or post negative comments for several years on non-brand owned sites such as epinions.com. Now brand-owned media (i.e. a brand’s Facebook page) are targets for consumers posting negative comments. Consumers post social complaints to brands’ Facebook pages to warn others, notify the company to receive restitution, and/or embarrass a brand publicly. How prevalent is social complaining? eMarketer states 46% of consumers using social media for customer service are venting frustrations about poor experiences; and Facebook is the most popular social media site to post complaints.

How does this relate to sponsored search results? Put yourself in the shoes of an upset customer. For example, a faulty Maytag clothes washer is purchased by a consumer, who upon repeated attempts to fix the issue with Maytag is left with the broken appliance. The issue is unresolved. Years ago an online review site would be the destination for this upset customer; but, now this customer can go to Facebook to voice a complaint.

In our example above, the customer may type “Maytag” into Facebook’s search to locate the brand’s page to post a complaint. Surprisingly, the first result – a sponsored search result – could be a smart competitor such as Bosch, a rival brand of Maytag. An upset customer may not only visit and post a complaint on Maytag’s Facebook page, but also may choose to post the negative information on Bosch’s page due to the top of mind awareness generated by the sponsored result! Hey, if an upset consumer wants to embarrass a brand, what better way to do so than on a competitor’s page in front of the rival brand’s audience!

An additional subsequent scenario is brand-switching. The consumer’s clothes washer is broke and a negative review is made available to a competitor. A smart competing brand will engage the consumer and perhaps win them over as a new customer. This scenario also creates a public display of a brand that cares. There is a lot of positive PR to gain in this situation. Are you thinking this would never happen? Check out this story of a blogger who posted a complaint about her broken Maytag washer. Bosch, the competing brand, picked up on the complaint and actually gave the consumer a free washer. This occurred via a blog, but with evolving technology and brand-owned media being a fertile ground for social complaints, a similar situation may occur in the context of Facebook and its sponsored search results.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Social Media Marketing Magazine recently ranked him as one of the Top 100 Marketing Professors on Twitter. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile


Social Complaining: the evolution of technology and media

By Todd Bacile | May 23, 2012

 Social ComplainingI recently interviewed several social media marketers in conjunction with a study being conducted with Florida State University’s marketing department. During these interviews the majority of marketers stated that they have deleted consumers’ negative comments from their firm’s Facebook wall. Mind you, the consumer comments that these marketers deleted did not contain any inappropriate or vulgar language (usually). Moreover, the marketers acknowledged that the consumers were right to justify their complaints related to some type of dis-satisfaction or service failure with their firm. However, the marketers wanted to maintain a clean Facebook wall without any negative comments. The remarks from one marketer summed up the group’s outlook of Facebook comments: “This is our firm’s Facebook page, not a blog. If a consumer wants to complain about something, they should find a blog. It’s my page, so I can control whatever content I want.”

Social Complaining: deleting comments is not the answer

Along with all the positive outcomes that firms associate with social media, one of the “dark” sides of such media is negative publicity. Firms don’t like to discuss this negativity in great detail. As illustrated by the marketers interviewed, they can simply make the problem disappear from their page with a press of the delete button. Some marketers view this situation similar to sweeping dust under a rug: out of sight, out of mind. Newsflash to firms: this does not solve the problem.

Social media has created a phenomenon that I refer to as social complaining. The Internet has enabled consumers to complain or post negative comments for several years. However, the power of social media tools to easily reach consumers’ personal social networks is now enabling social complainers to be heard by large masses. Most consumers on Facebook have 100-200 friends. These friends actively listen to a communication describing a malicious marketer, who has a heavy finger on the delete button.

I conducted several interviews with consumers asking about their experiences and reactions to having their social media complaints deleted from a company’s Facebook wall. The consumers’ frustration and emotions were immediately apparent. Several of the interviewees stated that they have had their complaints deleted. When this action occurs, this usually sets in motion a series of events that a company A) cannot control; and B) will regret. The consumers stated that the original complaint takes a back-burner to what they now consider an unethical company that does not care about their consumers. These consumers have their own Facebook wall, Twitter accounts, YouTube, blogs, and other easy to use, yet powerful self-publishing tools to inform their networks through social complaining. Not only does the original complaint get re-published to consumers’ personal networks, but also the action that the company took to hide the problem (deleting the comments) becomes a focal point of the communication. Hence, the social complainer is still heard, even though the marketer did their best to sweep the issue under the rug.

Advice to Companies

View a complaint posted to your Facebook wall as an opportunity to stand out and impress your consumers. Not only the original complaining consumer, but also those additional onlookers reading and posting to your wall. When a consumer complains they are asking for you to recognize them and communicate with them. A complaining consumer is really saying: I like your company, spend my hard earned money on your products, and now I need you to help me resolve an issue. Please talk to me! A good way to handle this is to address the consumer in an apologetic and empathetic manner (similar to how traditional brick-and-mortar customer service is conducted). Then, take the complaint offline. I don’t mean delete the complaint from the wall. Rather, ask the consumer to contact you via phone or e-mail to fully resolve the issue. Taking it offline allows for you to give more personal attention to the consumer, while also avoiding any messy details or additional negative comments to be posted for all to see on your wall. A good example of a firm that is using this strategy is Holiday Inn. The screen shots below illustrates their complaint resolution in action.

Social Complaints

Holiday Inn resolves the issue by taking it offline. They also leave the original complaint viewable on their wall. This is a smart move by a strong brand. By leaving the complaint on the wall, the company is communicating to their customers that it cares. The company wants to let their consumers know that they are willing to talk with them. This level of interaction and engagement is what makes social media so powerful – and it can nip a social complainer’s problem in the bud before it leads to a larger problem that the company cannot control.

Todd Bacile is a marketing doctoral candidate and instructor for Electronic Marketing and Services Marketing in the College of Business at Florida State University. Outside of the classroom he enjoys cooking BBQ in his smoker and coaching tee ball. You can contact him on Twitter @toddbacile
Jennifer Bacile contributed to this post. She holds degrees in IT & Communication with technology. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JBacile