I got pretty frustrated with a routine trip to Walmart yesterday, and I found myself fuming at the large company, it’s incoherent purchase and return policies, and the fact that there was little I could do about it. I thought about tweeting my frustrations, but I ended up even more mad at myself for shopping at Walmart in the first place. It’s a store I managed to avoid until recent months, though yesterday’s experience merely reminded me of why I will typically shop at any store but Walmart.
One aspect of Walmart that particularly irked me yesterday was its mere vastness, making its own employees largely unable to help me. Even more so, its vastness makes its employees relatively unattached from consumer concerns, from an emotional standpoint. I don’t mean to generalize the company or its employees, but big businesses have a tendency to have that effect, regardless of their brand name or their products.
So when I read a recent blog post from FedEx outlining how well it was able to utilize social media for the purpose of making its business small again, I was intrigued. Not because I had learned something new, but because I could better appreciate a company’s ability to express its desire towards improving its customer service. It may be more big business propaganda, but there are in fact many times where individual consumers like myself can feel better about their big-brand experience by simply receiving a tweet from that company.
So can social media bring big companies back to the basics? In some ways, yes. Seeking out customers to address is a relatively proactive way of dealing with the word-of-mouth issue, halting the spreading of bad reviews before they have time to permeate an entire social graph. In other ways, it could be yet another way to pacify the consumers.
Whatever the case may be, more and more brands are finding ways to use social media towards acting like a smaller business. As the social media push continues, more demographics will be available to these brands, such as the geographic location of a consumer. This, of course, makes it even easier for a big brand to descend to the level of its average consumer, acting as a small business that would be concerned with how their neighbor feels about their brand.
For the time being, I like that social media is able to do this. For brands and consumers alike, social media still has some semblance of a leveling effect. I think it’s a good position for brands to be in right now, as their accountability increases along with everyone else’s, thanks to the published sharing power of social media outlets. How big brands use these social media channels in the future, we don’t know. Until they find another way to take advantage of consumers through social media, I’ll just enjoy the new found attention to individual consumers.