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Home Depot vs. JetBlue: Who engages better on Facebook?

Home Depot vs. JetBlue: Who engages better on Facebook? David Clarke

Learning to engage consumers on Facebook involves a study in online behavior with a steep learning curve. The potential for pitfalls are prevalent, so many businesses simply choose to dictate content and not directly engage consumers at all. Others, however, are engaging their consumers personally -- some with success, though others are struggling. The key is to understand online consumer behavior and form your strategies accordingly.

With that in mind, below are threads of two brands' consumer interactions on Facebook: one that got it right (Home Depot) and one that still has a way to go (JetBlue). These conversations demonstrate what works and what doesn't, and serve as strong examples for how you can fashion your Facebook interactions based on online behavior.
Positive interaction: Home Depot

Poster X had multiple bad experiences with Home Depot's delivery service, and took to the company's Facebook page to air out her frustrations. Home Depot responded with a personal touch, addressed all complaints appropriately and was able to close the conversation with the customer satisfied.
The exchange
1. The customer complaint:

This is a major customer complaint, and the poster even threatens to go to the competition -- whom she then mentioned by name, in all caps, directly on Home Depot's page. She is, however, still showing brand moderate behaviors, and the issue can still be successfully resolved.

2. Home Depot's response: 

Home Depot provides a solid first response, speaking in a consolatory tone that personalizes the conversation and humanizes the brand. It addresses the poster by her first name and provides her with useful information. The post ends with the name of the Home Depot employee who crafted it, which is another nice touch. By asking for the consumer's direct contact information, it actively sought to bring her out from the cold and take the conversation offline.

3. The customer continues to push:

In this specific case, the personalization backfired a bit, providing a target for a tart response, and a continued push from the customer.

4. Home Depot vamps for time:  

In this effective post, Home Depot doesn't take the bait for an argument, nor does it take a defensive stance. It simply takes the information given and uses it to buy some time to research and resolve the complaint.

5. Another customer joins the fray:

Negative posts on a page almost always attract other negative posters, adding fuel to the fire. This is typical behavior.

6. Home Depot closes the conversation: 

Home Depot finishes the conversation by employing a strong "two birds, one stone" approach. Answering both posters by name was smart. Bringing in the employee who initially handled Poster X's complaint also worked, and Home Depot did an excellent job in closing the conversation.

Home Depot Conclusion
In handling these customer exchanges, Home Depot showed it had a solid strategy and understanding of posters' needs and behaviors. The company was able to engage the customers in a personal and effective manner that led to a closing of the conversation. Some key takeaways include:

  • Home Depot showed they understand their posters and are able to engage them effectively.

  • When and how to move the conversation offline -- and how to effectively write a post that allows for it -- is an important decision companies must make in threads such as these, and Home Depot managed that decision perfectly.

  • Most importantly, Home Depot got the last word, which is imperative in these posts, as you don't just start a thread, you finish it.

Next page >>

Negative interaction: JetBlue
JetBlue Airways has set up a discussion board on its Facebook page to allow for user-generated discussions. The company doesn't seem to censor any threads, and instead seemingly only participates in "constructive" discussions, leaving inflammatory ones alone. In this thread about pet travel requirements, JetBlue fans the fires of consumer discontent by using an impersonal tone, poor grammar, and indirect answers.

The exchange
1. Question from Customer 1:

This poster laid out a detailed scenario regarding her question.

2. A mediocre JetBlue response:

This poster has come directly to this page to ask for help, so why would you make them jump through another hoop? This is poor customer service and prevents the conversation from being closed.

3. Question from Customer 2:

The initial pet thread generated interest from others, and another customer has joined the conversation with a new question.

4. JetBlue fumbles the response:

As an industry leader, there is no excuse for spelling errors. An oversight such as this can easily turn the conversation against a brand, since it provides posters with ammunition to doubt credibility and professionalism. Additionally, this was an extremely impersonal post to deliver bad news to a specific poster in a social medium.

5. Question from Customer 3 (another missed opportunity for JetBlue):

This distracter raises addressable issues in his attempt to fan the flames. How'd JetBlue respond? It didn't, missing an opportunity to successfully explain a policy.

6. Question from Customer 4:

A new customer enters the thread with a different, but related question.

7. JetBlue's (grammatically incorrect) response:

This JetBlue response is written awkwardly and is grammatically incorrect. There is obviously a serious editing issue at JetBlue, as an employee with admin access has been allowed to post without any editorial supervision.

8. JetBlue's poor response time:

Social media moves at a rapid pace. If you have been engaging posters in a thread, you must stay actively involved in the thread until you close it. The delay here is the equivalent of turning your back on a customer who is next in your service line.

9. JetBlue's poor closing:

The customer poses a simple follow-up question and JetBlue replies with "Yup?" What kind of answer is that? And what is the leave-behind for the poster? This is not a reaffirming response, and it provides no value and no close to the conversation.

JetBlue conclusion
In building the discussion board feature and actively engaging posters, JetBlue has shown it has good intentions. Unfortunately, it showed poor execution in acting on them. Some key takeaways include:

  • There was little personalization, since the JetBlue poster wasn't identified.

  • The grammar was consistently poor throughout the conversation.

  • There was little planning, strategy, or insight delivered in JetBlue's responses.

  • The thread barely served to provide any refreshing, relevant information, and did zero to promote or build upon the JetBlue brand.

  • JetBlue failed to close the conversation or bring it offline.

Home Depot brought real answers to tough questions, as well as closure, and did so with a personal touch. The company employed a clear strategy for engagement and clearly understands how best to interact with its customers on Facebook. Home Depot's interaction is a solid example for how businesses can successfully resolve customer complaints online while enhancing brand loyalty.

JetBlue, on the other hand, did not provide direct answers, had many basic grammar errors, and lacked personalization. There was no real strategy or understanding of the posters' behaviors. Even though JetBlue took the initiative to start a discussion board, they did not see the initiative through to the final stage of effective engagement.

In the end, the Home Depot and JetBlue examples demonstrate that when interacting with customers on Facebook, a company must engage in a manner that is personal, professional, and of value. Facebook is a slippery slope, and to avoid pitfalls you must understand your customers' online behaviors and implement relevant engagement strategies.

David Clarke is co-founder and managing partner of BGT Partners.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

David is the PwC Chief Experience Officer(CXO), a Principal in Digital Services and the Leader of the Experience Center. David combines the best of agency and consultancy to create ideal experiences that transform our world. Since 1996, David has...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: S Z

2010, September 27

The poor grammar used by the JetBlue agent was pointed out, but not that of the Home Depot agent. The first post has a run-on sentence right away and says "you" instead of "your" when asking for the contact information.

Commenter: Tim Bottiglieri

2010, September 15

many consumers prefer to purchase & interact online, eliminates a lot of the nonsense we all are accustomed to with regards to the BS with some human interaction, its always about price / human behavior, online we can move away swiftly in search of - honesty & fairness is usually the best policy on any platform.

Commenter: Andrew Dixon

2010, September 14

Fantastic article. Great points!

Commenter: Brett Sherman

2010, September 14

excellent article

Commenter: Vickie Smith-Siculiano, PMP

2010, September 14

It is so true that you are tested when responding to a customer complaint, or to a question in a timely manner.

And when a person posts something that is unfounded and unfair, the community will come to your defense - so, the true test is not just on the coordinator/manager, but on the community that you've worked hard to build, seeing it come to the brand's defense!

Vickie Smith-Siculiano