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Consumer complaint? Courts aside, social media’s the new activism forum

analysis Updated: Apr 18, 2016 11:17 IST
Consumer complaints

(Representative image) The best bet for a swift response over a faulty product or service is to drag it to social media. (Picture courtesy: Shutterstock)

The best bet for a swift response over a faulty product or service is to drag it to social media — the people’s court in this digital age — and share it extensively and force the brand to take notice.

This trend is catching on as a less cumbersome, more .prompt alternative to forums addressing consumer grievances.

A case in point is Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s pulling out as brand ambassador of real-estate firm Amrapali after aggrieved homebuyers trolled him on Twitter.

“It all started with a joke and then trolls made a national trend, we call it digital encounter, Though Dhoni made a good comeback, It’s all about image these days,” wrote @BJPLucknowBJP, with over 54k followers on Twitter.

Response to online campaigns may include a company recalling products, withdrawing unacceptable advertisements, apologising or, as seen in the latest incident, the brand ambassador dissociating himself.

This was not the first time a celebrity received flak for endorsing a product.

In April last year, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had to dissociate herself from a controversial ad by Kalyan Jewellers, in which she was seen with a dark-skinned child holding an umbrella, after it was condemned on social media for being “rascist” and “promoting child slavery”.

Such social media trials have usually succeeded in evoking prompt response from image-conscious brands and celebrities.

“The conversation on social media is visible to a huge audience, mostly youth,” said Amit Mookerjee, professor of marketing at IIM-Lucknow. “The more the message spreads, the more people start believing in it. Something said about a celebrity or a brand finds a lot of resonance in no time because the most vocal consumers are on social media.”

In August last year, 28-year-old rapper Sofia Ashraf initiated a social media campaign against Unilever for allegedly dumping toxic waste in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. The video received more than 2.8 million views and was shared extensively on Twitter with #Unileverpollutes hashtag.

“Determined to solve. Need others too and facts not false emotions,” wrote Unilever’s chief executive officer Paul Polman on Twitter in response.

Last month, electric goods manufacturer Havells India Ltd found itself grappling to handle social media outrage over the anti-reservation sentiments expressed in a TV commercial. It stopped the commercial and issued an apology.

There are also cases where individuals dissatisfied with a product or service have complained on social media and the company has responded. Most firms today have a team that monitors “social media chatter” as part of its image-management arsenal.

“In cases when there is a damaging campaign, our company in consultation with the social media team makes a strategy to handle it,” said a Snapdeal spokesperson.

Also gaining popularity are portals that allow anyone to launch signature campaigns online.

In January last year, a petition was signed by 63,500 people demanding cab aggregator Uber to implement background checks of drivers in India. The company later committed to ensure thorough background check, document and police verification of all its drivers.

Things, however, don’t always go as planned for the vocal consumer.

In October 2014, a Gurgaon resident shared pictures on Facebook of ‘Amul Gold’ milk that turned into stretchy dough — and received 99,000 shares and 10,000 likes. Amul sent a team to investigate and found nothing wrong with the product. It later revealed that the complainant had intentionally misled the people.