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The sometimes silly world of social media may not seem like a popular hangout for corporate executives, but renowned companies such as Ford Motor Co., Pepsi Co., Coca-Cola, and Southwest Airlines are adding “heads of social media” to their top management teams. This is a serious business; social media can alert companies to the most up-to-date news, as well as give them a means to respond more quickly to consumers than ever before.

The heads of social media take responsibility for scanning the Web for blogs, postings, tweets, or Facebook posts in which customers mention their experience with a brand. It may seem somewhat tedious, but by searching as much online material as possible, companies can learn about customers’ perceptions and solve customer problems that may never have reached them through other channels.

For example, a Twitter user with 10,000 followers complained he was not able to redeem a prize from the MyCoke rewards program. A Coca-Cola representative immediately posted an apology on the consumer’s Twitter profile and ensured he received the prize—after which the consumer changed his photo to one of himself holding a Coke bottle. From angry brand denigrator to brand ambassador, this consumer gave Coca-Cola a means to impress other consumers as well.

Social media, with their ever-expanding presence, also offer insights that no other method could, especially in crisis situations. On July 13, a Southwest Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing. Southwest carefully monitored passengers’ reactions to the incident on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites. Customers continually posted positive messages about how the crew handled the emergency—in real time. These positive postings led Southwest employees to tweet, a few hours later, “great work by crew and customers onboard.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why do companies believe social media are important?

Sarah Needleman, “For Companies, a Tweet in Time Can Avert PR Mess,” The Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2009.