UNTIL recently, social media was the consumer?s best friend.

In the olden days, before big companies like Vodafone or Target had Facebook or Twitter we had to wait on the customer service line, for long, irritating stretches of time, if we had some feedback. Send them an email, or even a letter if you were really desperate.

Facebook and Twitter were an exciting way to fast track those steps. It didn’t take long for us to realise that if you’re fed up with a product or service, a quick tweet would get you a response in half the time it takes to send an email.

But suddenly that’s all started to change. Over the past few weeks, a handful of big companies have proven that when it comes to social media, they have no idea what they’re doing. They want us to like their pages and compliment them on their products, but as soon as we start telling them what we really think, they tear our comments right down.

It all started with Carlton and United Breweries who, as I wrote for The Punch last week, asked a stupid question on their Facebook page last Australia Day and got a whole heap of stupid and offensive posts in reply.

This led to a recent ruling from a consumer watchdog that from now on big companies have 24 hours to remove any offensive and derogatory comments from their Facebook pages before they face potential court action.

This is fair enough. Inappropriate comments made about a person’s race, colour, age, gender, sexuality or anything else for that matter are clearly out of bounds.

But what about when it’s customers complaining about a product, or just plain unhappy with a service, is it OK for the company to pull them down?

Because that’s what happened twice this week. On Tuesday Ana Amini posted a comment on Target Australia’s Facebook page complaining about the department store’s inappropriate clothing range for girls aged 7 to 10. Her comment attracted thousands of comments and “likes” but was quickly removed from the site.

Then overnight on the Vodafone Facebook page, Jarrod Gibson posted a comment suggesting the company contact NASA and find out if it could use their equipment to improve the dodgy connection service. This post received about 58, 000 “likes” from other Vodafone Facebook friends, but was also quickly removed.

Vodafone has since posted an explanation, saying the post was removed because it contained swearwords. But do we believe them?

Here’s the thing about social media, you have to take the good and the bad. We’re not talking about swear words, inappropriate language, racial or gender slurs.

Obviously there is a code of decency that should be observed, but clearly these customers are raising questions that we want to be able to ask.

It’s not unlike running a news website that opens stories for comments. We reserve the right to delete comments from people who are rude, inappropriate, threatening violence or just using the site as a punching bag; but criticism and questions are all part of being online and having a social media presence.

If big companies that provide services or products want to engage with us on these mediums, then they have to be prepared to cop some flak, too.

Marketing and social media are comfortable bed fellows, but unless a company is prepared to accept that a Facebook page or Twitter account are a great way of letting customer provide all sorts of feedback, including the negative stuff, what’s the point of having it?

If companies are only looking for praise they’d be better off sticking to a website with a feedback form.

Ref: http://www.news.com.au