Back in my “trend reporter” days at The Boston Herald (circa 1987) while my fellow newsroom denizens Gwen Ifill and Howie Carr were out covering hard news, I was assigned the “trend” desk.  Think of it as a “what’s hot” column except without Twitter and Facebook, we had no way to actually research what was in fact trending at the time.family reunion

Instead, I’d come up with something like “the rise in family reunions”  — I’d call three “experts” and if they all agreed with my hypothesis, it was a trend. If they disagreed, it was a possible “counter trend.”  And for the record, regardless of the scientific veracity of my methodology at the time,  I did accurately predict the rise of youth soccer, family reunions and hot tubs in New England. Of course I may have a been a decade or two too early, but I digress.

My early journalistic habits have stuck with me, so today when I get three questions on the same topic, my trend antennae go up and start looking into it.

The latest trend is “how do you measure the downsides of doing social media.”  The short answer is: There is no downside. You really don’t have a choice. Social media isn’t a medium or a marketing tactic, it is simply how we are doing business today. If you chose to ignore it, your competitors will beat you to market, your customers will use it to vent, and ultimately you will lose market share and die.

The real question is: How do you measure doing social media badly?

There are no shortage of examples. Take online retailer KlearGear, described succinctly by Media Post’s Bob Garfield as “synonymous with douchebaggery.”  

The company “fined” a customer $3500 for posting criticisms of the company on Ripoff Report and then locked down its social media accounts after the Internet reacted its action with more than usual vitriol.

It now faces $75,000 worth of claims as well as accusations of illegal practices by Public Citizen.

Do the math: Attorney fees + lost customers + non-productive time of CEO and all supporting staff responding to discovery requests = a whole lot more money than a good social media team.

Then of course there is LuluLemon, who could have avoided a major social media crisis had he honestly apologized for comments indicating that his company’s clothing wasn’t designed to be worn by heavier women. 

Instead, he took to Facebook and complained about the impact that the negative reaction was having on his employees.  The response: Petitions were filed against them for “Fat Shaming” and the stock price dropped precipitously. In fact, recent research shows that stock price decline may be the biggest cost of a crisis.

And of course, there is always my favorite example, Dave Carroll and the impact  “United Breaks Guitars” had on United Airlines.One can argue about whether $180 million is the right number, but there is little doubt that it impacted the company’s reputation and value.

My point is this: Yes, there is a measurable cost to not doing social media, and there is an even higher cost of doing social media badly. And I’d be happy to do the math for you.

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