In what seems like a never–ending series of unfortunate social media events, a recent story from George Washington University serves as a great reminder to all of us just how important managing your brand online is.
The story, which gained notoriety when it was posted on Mashable earlier today, is every brand manager’s worst nightmare.
A “customer” (read: student) who was having issues with his housing at GWU–and who was refused help for some time–decided to take things to social media, and GWU has been backtracking ever since.
The page in question, called GW Housing Horrors, shows an assortment of photos of, unsurprisingly, housing horrors from on-campus–all of which went unfixed.
But let’s backtrack for a minute. According to Mashable, here’s how things went:
- Two interns in Washington, D.C. stayed at GWU, and were appalled at the conditions in the dorms (see lead photo for example)
- The interns attempted to file a complaint with the university’s housing staff, but received rude replies and generally unhelpful responses
- After they were refused help, Ayla Nejad–one of the interns–and an unnamed Ph.D student created the page
- The story started making its way all over the web
- GWU responded, and will be speaking with Nejad later this week (and also, GWU’s director of housing called and apologized to Sam Sherman, a student who posted some of his complaints on the page)
Just as Mashable describes, then, this seems to be a prime example of social media shaming in the highest form. GWU refused to help the creators of the page (before they even created the page) and now, they’re paying the price as a result.
Regardless of how true the allegations are (though from the number of students jumping on the bandwagon, it seems like this is a widespread problem), this is a pretty terrible situation for GWU. They look like they don’t care about students, and potential students are now being presented with an image of disgusting dorms and nonresponsive housing staff.
Despite the fact that no dorm room I’ve ever lived in is excessively “nice,” there are a few lessons that we can take away from GW Housing Horrors:
- Don’t ignore your customers. Duh. Let me repeat: do not ignore your customers. This is a staple of good business, and it’s never been truer than now. Before, your mistreated customers had few outlets to complain. Now, they have the entire world. Treat your customers right, and you won’t have to worry about becoming the next GW Housing Horrors or Amy’s Baking Company .
- Don’t forget how powerful social media is. Social media is incredible. It’s revolutionized the way that we communicate with one another, and it’s streamlined the buying process. But it’s also made it easier for people with something negative to say to share their opinions online. You should definitely be on social media, but you should also be very wary of its potential if you’re not paying attention. As they say, with great social media comes great responsibility. Or something like that.
- Remember–pictures leave a lasting impact. This is probably the most extreme example you’ll find of the usefulness of pictures on social media, but nonetheless, it is a reminder that pictures are often much more powerful than words. A page full of paragraph-long descriptions of the dorms would have been entertaining (and maybe a little bit gross), but it certainly would not have been as impactful as a collection of photos like the ones you see on Facebook. Though this is a negative example, the same is certainly true for happy, positive images, too.
This whole situation could have (probably) been avoided if GWU had responded to the entire situation a little better. They should’ve listened to Nejad when he complained about the living conditions in the first place, but even if they hadn’t, a more timely response on the Facebook page could’ve done a lot of damage control.
Unfortunately, no such timely response took place, and now GWU (or their housing, at least) is left with a poor online image. We’d call that a loss.
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool when used correctly, but it’s important to remember that it can be hurtful if you don’t pay attention. That doesn’t mean that you should stay off of social media–just the opposite, in fact–but it does mean that you need to pay more attention than ever to what your customers say about you, online and off.
GW Housing Horrors may be the exception to the rule, but it’s also an exceptional reminder of what can go wrong when you refuse to listen to your customers. And that’s just bad business.
John is glad that he no longer shares a bathroom with 25 other college-aged men. He’s Editor at Social Media Contractors.
John is Managing Editor at Social Media Contractors. He graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he earned his B.A. in English, specializing in British Literature.