Last week, Cherie and I traveled to Las Vegas to run the Rock N Roll half-marathon. While Vegas is always a good time and this visit was no exception, the race itself had some serious logistical issues. Not to sweep those issues under the rug — there were many valid complaints from hundreds of runners, ranging from allegedly contaminated water to a shortage of post-race food to a poorly organized starting and finishing area — what fascinated us as an online marketing firm was Rock ‘N’ Roll’s response (or somewhat lack thereof) to the backlash on Facebook and Twitter. It was — and still is, really — like watching a train wreck happen in slow motion.
When a huge company such as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Series (they currently organize nearly 30 races across the U.S., Canada, and Europe) fumbles with their social media response to valid complaints from (high) paying customers, it provides a lesson for any company using social media as a platform to interact with customers. Social media — Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc. — can be an invaluable tool but it can do more harm than good if not well-used.
For instance, as soon as the race ended, upset and sick runners took to Facebook to voice their frustrations. Hundreds of those comments were not answered — and those that were eventually answered were not done so very quickly — and when a response was given, it was a blanket PR response from the CEO (and written with incorrect facts, too). Any company in charge of a race with 44K runners (at $140/each, that’s over $6 million), hiring social media managers should be a key decision — smart, thorough people who can offer levelheaded responses without delay. When you wait to respond to angry, upset, and disappointed customers (and runners are a passionate repeat “customer” group), you look guilty and unsympathetic.
Some of the Facebook comments:
Additionally, Zappos.com was tied to this event as a lead sponsor and Zappos.com is known for their stellar customer service. (I, for one can vouch for that service on many personal occasions.) This brings into question what sponsors should ask when partnering with companies. Zappos.com couldn’t have predicted these particular events would unfold, but I wonder how many sponsors ask of companies: “Do you have full-time staff to handle your social media responses?” I bet it’s not a standard question but maybe it should be.
Finally, just today (over a week after the race), Rock ‘N’ Roll emailed a $50 discount offer for the next Rock ‘N’ Roll race — a January race in Arizona. When many runners expressed that it would be impossible for them to travel again so soon after Vegas, and wondered if they could use that discount on another race, the answer was always something similar to this:
The offer felt like another customer service fail. Obviously the majority of runners who had a bad Vegas experience couldn’t travel a month later and the organization most likely knew this. They made an offer they knew wouldn’t make much of a difference to the issues at hand or to their bottom line.
So, a few final thoughts on the issue from a social media standpoint:
- Most large scale events should have social media staff, to handle (in real time) post-event response
- As many comments as possible should be directly answered, through comments or emails
- Admit mistakes outright and offer concrete solutions (you can’t change the experience, but you can refund entry fees, offer considerable future discounts, or a combination of both — and make those solutions benefit all that had complaints, not a select few)
- Avoid blanket press releases and instead address individual concerns
What do you think? What’s a company’s social media responsibility when an event has disorganized and dangerous logistics? And, are sponsors responsible for a company’s social media response?