Social Media Levels the Playing Field Between Business and Consumer

General Mills, Macy's and Sallie Mae all learned the hard way how angry consumers on social media can quickly damage a reputation.


There is no shortage of missteps and gaffes online, from both users and companies. And since social networks provide both a mouthpiece and an amplifier for consumer complaints, it doesn’t take much to damage a reputation online. Any user, with a significant complaint, can send a whole company into panic.

General Mills recently announced that by liking their Facebook pages, consumers essentially waived their right to sue the company. After a significant volume of tweets, the company completely reversed its decision. “We’ll just add that we never imagined this reaction. We’re sorry we even started down this path,” said General Mills spokeswoman Kirstie Foster in a statement.

A Sallie Mae student loan customer passed away in a car accident. After the company hounded the the student’s mother, his sister took to Twitter. Olivia Katbi laid bare all the details about the “vile” Sallie Mae and the case was swiftly settled. But in many ways, the damage was done.

Television and film actor Rob Brown was allegedly racially profiled while shopping in Macy’s, when trying to buy a $1,300 watch as a graduation gift for his mother. After shaming Macy’s on Twitter, he filed a class-action lawsuit against the company for discrimination.

These are all examples of how the playing field between consumers and companies have been leveled. Indeed, social media allows users the democratic ability to criticize any corporation. As such, companies should consider policy changes — and the potential PR implications — very carefully.

When a company operates on social media, they are always under its gaze, and any careless step could trigger and landmine. Just make sure you’re trying to be on the right side of the outrage in relation to your customer base.