"Better social media management" isn't at the top of many companies' to-do lists. After all, who has time to faff about with Twitter and Facebook when you have an actual business to run? If you're dealing with customers on a daily basis though, it's definitely not something you want to neglect or ignore. One missed word can swiftly led to a public relations nightmare, as Coles just learned to its chagrin...
Photo: Rob Török, Twitter
"Is it true that Coles $1/litre milk is at times made from reconstituted milk powder?"
The above question was recently posted on Coles' Facebook page. With Australia's supermarket giants currently under fire for their alleged mistreatment of local dairy farmers, you'd think anything to do with milk would be carefully vetted by Coles' PR team. Instead, here's what they responded with (emphasis ours):
"Hi Aaron, thanks for getting in touch. We can confirm that Coles Brand Fresh Milk is made from reconstituted milk powder. Murray Goldburn has stated that their latest problems are due to the fall in world dairy prices and changes in the value of the Australian dollar, not their contract to supply us with Coles Brand milk — our milk only accounts for about 6 per cent of Murray Goldburn's production. We can assure you that we're committed to supporting a vibrant dairy farming sector and we'll work with our farmers and dairy processors to ensure the long term health of the industry and we'll certainly share your feedback with our team."
The above Facebook reply plainly confirms that Coles uses reconstituted milk powder in its "fresh" milk. Scandal!
In reality, some clumsy social media minion accidentally left out a vital word. The sentence was supposed to read: "We can confirm that Coles Brand Fresh Milk is not made from reconstituted milk powder." Someone done goofed up.
The comment and reply were promptly deleted from Facebook with Coles posting a followup message:
"we're sorry for the confusion. This was a typo and we can confirm that Coles brand milk is fresh and not made from reconstituted milk powder".
By then, the error had already been shared across social media and picked up by multiple media outlets, causing considerable embarrassment for the company. If only they'd taken a second to look over that critical sentence, eh?
But that's not the only thing wrong with Coles' Facebook reply. The rest is worded with the careful, clinical precision of a pre-prepared statement.
It seems likely that Coles' Facebook administrator answered the initial query quickly (too quickly, as it turns out), and then tacked on the company's official "pro-milk" spiel. We're willing to bet that every email, tweet and Facebook message Coles receives about milk prices gets the same response.
While it's obviously difficult to respond organically to every single customer — particularly if you're as large as Coles — it's best not to half-arse these things when a controversial topic arises. A belated, personal response is usually preferable to a fast, semi-automated one; especially when you stuff the latter up.
Do you regularly use social media to promote your business? How do you deal with customer queries and complaints? Tell us about it in the comments.