Best Buy Learns Social Media Lesson

Best Buy recently posted a seemingly innocent question on its Facebook page: “What do you think about offering Bestbuy.com in Spanish?” But it didn’t get the constructive dialogue that it was looking for. According to Tracy Benson, Best Buy’s senior director of interactive marketing and emerging media:

It was a landmine. There were hundreds of negative responses flowing in, people posting racist, rude comments

My take: Best Buy’s experience highlights key learnings about social media:

  • Feedback doesn’t always reflect the actual voice of the customer.
  • A loud minority can disrupt almost any conversation.
  • If you initiate a conversation, you should have rules for terminating it.
  • Being open and honest sometimes requires being firm and intolerant.
  • Listening to feedback is only the first step in the “LIRM” process.

The bottom line: Don’t treat social media as a panacea

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I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

8 thoughts on “Best Buy Learns Social Media Lesson”

  1. What a shame! Who could have predicted that question would elicit such an ugly reaction? (Not I). I had the impression that Facebook was more courteous than some anonymous social media because people use their real identities. But I guess it didn’t work out that way for BestBuy.

    I agree that “If you initiate a conversation, you should have rules for terminating it.” I think it makes sense for brands to be up front that they will remove and/or moderate conversations that “cross the line” for a variety of reasons.

    However, social media initiatives don’t thrive when people feel that the brand is being manipulative, so firms need to be careful that they are seen to use their powers for the benefit of the community (not allowing insults, threats, racism etc.) rather than for the benefit of the brand. That means allowing candid feedback and criticism of the firm.

    The article states that BestBuy is going to try again with a rephrased question. I have the feeling that BestBuy might do better to explore this topic with an invitation-only group of their Spanish-speaking fans. (… and surely it makes sense to ask the question in Spanish).

  2. I didn’t see the initial question on Facebook, but I wonder why Best Buy addressed this particular question to this particular audience. The majority of people who read the question probably would never use a Spanish bestbuy.com, so why ask them?

  3. I have to agree with John. Asking customers who can speak English well enough to use Best Buy.com in English and/or social media in English was not the most effective way to collect good feedback on this particular topic. I see social media, at least in this context, as one of many tools we use to engage customers. The key is using the right tool for the right question, and eliminating tools that don’t provide relevant data or threaten to become lightening rod issues. (Good, bad, or indifferent Spanish language translation is one of those issues. Though I agree that the person who asked the question meant it as an innocent question.)

    More effective data collection might include visiting a store whose demographics skew highly Spanish speaking and conducting a simple survey. (Among countless others.) Then you avoid all the hot socio-political issues that threaten to muddle the discussion and actually get actionable feedback and data to work with.

    There are, by the way, firms who specialize in collecting this sort of data for Spanish speaking audiences (not mine) and they’re very good at what they do. There’s one out of Chicago I’ve worked with in the past who has done an excellent job in studies with existing Spanish speaking customers with various levels of English mastery and non-customer Spanish speakers who may use the product if the website is translated to Spanish.

  4. When using social media outlets, it is important to keep the questions asked to the audience is relevant to their interests. As Angela spoke, individuals with the capacity to use BestBuy.com in English are not the intended audience to the question proposed by Best Buy. Asking a question essentially directed toward Spanish speaking individuals on Facebook in English does not really add up. It’s easy to see how this miscue could have been avoided, but in retrospect the question Best Buy asked was directed in the most genuine of intentions.

  5. I purchased what I was told was a Sprint 3G broadband mobile Aircard, but it turned out to be an EVDO instead. Then when I asked for an exchange, the rep told me that the EVDO was better than the 3G, so I accepted his advice and went away. Several days later I met a person who showed me their Sprint 3G broadband mobile Aircard, which we tested against my Sprint EVDO broadband mobile Aircard. His card was vastly superior. I returned again to Best Buy to ask for the exchange, and the rep finally admitted that they don’t actually carry the Sprint 3G broadband mobile Aircard. How difficult would it have been to tell a customer this on an upfront-basis instead of selling them something else, misrepresenting it as 3G, and later compensating by trying to fool the customer into believing that their best interests were being served?

    On the 30th day, I returned the device in question. Where the Best Buy staff finally did the right thing was in their being persistent with SprintPCS in obtaining the RMA without letting launch the unfortunate travesty that SprintPCS was fully prepared to perpetrate. Thank heavens for the little blessings, but I am still left with a sickening feeling in my gut about being a “Black Tie” Geek Squad service subscriber for my new laptop, as that (too) has its own horror story.

  6. Hey guys, don’t forget that 55% of Hispanics prefer English-language while surfing the Internet and these guys are bilingual. Probably Best Buy had a big percentage of their Hispanic customers in their Facebook Fan page and wanted to start the conversation with them.
    Also it is curious to see that Best Buy fans didn’t react to the negative comments, which normally happens in a social media fan site. Don’t you think?

  7. Hi everyone: Great comments on this post. Asking questions to random people is not the most enlightening form of market research. Not only can you get unexpected reactions like Best Buy ran into, but you also have a hard way of interpretting what you hear (who are those people answering anyway?!?). As Jonathan mentions, a private oinline community might be a better way to get this feedback. As John and Angela also point out, the Facebook respondents are probably NOT even the people who Best Buy needs to hear from on this issue. And if you do pose these types of questions, you better be prepared to proactively deal with the response — as “lechancle” points out.

    Keep up the conversation!

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