Social media enables Which? to fix company cock-ups

This case study highlights how consumer organisation Which? is using social media to engage with both consumers and brands to give consumers a voice and initiate change.

Executive SummaryWhich? aims to be a consumer champion. This means not just investigating the large issues facing industry, but having conversations with individual consumers and helping them face up to the businesses that treat them unfairly. Which? has increasingly been taking its consumer rights expertise to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and forums. In these online spaces it helps individuals solve disputes and get their money back, prompting companies to change their ways when they’ve been misleading, and challen those companies that aren’t honest with their customers. Via a number of different channels Which? aims to ‘make individuals as powerful as the organisations they deal with’, via channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Which? Conversation. Which? also takes messages to a wider audience, such as challenging companies on their own blogs. Background to CampaignWhich? is not for profit. Members pay to subscribe to services and products, and this money is used to fund product testing and to pay for the campaigning Which? does on behalf of UK consumers.For over 50 years Which? has acted as a consumer champion by investigating member concerns and holding companies to account for bad behaviour. Which? is now using social media to achieve swift change on large issues (such as misleading advertising), solve individual problems and identify future campaigning issues. Objectives
  • Become the ‘trusted voice’ of the UK consumer
  • Make a positive change for UK consumers
StrategyBy ‘positive change’ Which? wants to have a direct and positive impact on the lives of individual consumers by:
  • responding to direct questions about specific companies
  • solving individual problems with companies
  • actively seeking out consumer problems and offering to help
  • seek redress for consumers who have lost out
Which? aims to become the ‘trusted voice’ by:
  • challenging companies publicly on decisions it thought were poor
  • congratulating companies who have done well in certain areas
  • supporting other consumer organisations who are working on issues it believes are important

Driving change by tweeting

The proactive work of the various Which? Twitter accounts (@WhichAction @WhichConvo @WhichMoney @WhichTech @WhichSwitch) has not only increased follower count; more consumers are getting in touch than ever before. In March 2011 Which? had 607 Twitter mentions - this increased to 1,283 mentions between 25 July and 24 August. T-Mobile u-turn demonstrates customer powerT-Mobile announced changes to its bundled mobile phone allowance, reducing its “unlimited” data plan to 500MB for new and existing customers.Tweets about this on @WhichTech quickly attracted a host of unhappy T-Mobile customers. Which? quickly published a post on its Which? Mobile blog, and behind the scenes talked to Ofcom and T-Mobile, letting them know it thought T-Mobile was likely in breach of its customer contracts. After 48 hours Which? had amassed 150 disgruntled comments on Twitter and its blogs. T-Mobile responded by backing down, saying its new data plan would only apply to new, not existing, customers. Sitting comfortably? Groupon fixes beanbag mistakeIn August the @WhichConvo Twitter account was alerted to a misadvertised Groupon deal – Groupon's email offered a premium FatBoy beanbag but linked to a cheaper brand. A Twitter storm soon followed - unhappy customers tweeted that the products definitely weren’t the same, with FatBoy soon confirming it knew nothing of the deal.Which? challenged Groupon to fix its mistake and refund misled customers. This challenge was successful, with Groupon withdrawing the offer, refunding customers and later publishing a frank apology.Consumers explain the independence of Which? on digital forums When there was unrest in Egypt, Which? wanted to help travellers who had already created conversations elsewhere online, so Which? made Lonely Planet readers aware of their rights on their forum.Access to Which? experts on FacebookWhich? set up its Which? Action Facebook page in February 2011, and in the past seven months has built up 1,232 friends. Being a friend of Which? on Facebook gives people the opportunity to tap straight into the expertise of its researchers and lawyers.When the London Fire Brigade warned of a potential fire risk affecting up to 500,000 Beko fridge freezers, Which? posted advice about the issue on our Facebook page.Save the chequeWhen 92% voted to keep the cheque in a poll of over 1,300 people, Which? decided to use this evidence – along with supporting comments – in an external briefing to Parliament and the Payments Council. This year it was announced the cheque will no longer be scrapped.A bitter taste for some restaurantsWhich? made sure that popular restaurants kept calorie labelling at front of mind, not just by tweeting about our food investigation but by targeting key restaurants to see what they were offering.

Consumers got involved with the debate:

Then the restaurants themselves chipped in to say what they were doing:

Which? then followed up with a Which? Conversation blog post where consumers could get their own views across. These views are then used to inform Which?’s lobbying work. Knocking on Scottish Power’s doorWhich? challenged Scottish Power over doorstep sales. A Twitter user told Which? he’d had a salesman at his door making some unusual claims. The energy company has no presence on Twitter, so Which? blogged about it on Which? Conversation, issued a challenge to all the energy companies about doorstep sales, and Scottish Power are now investigating the specific issue and have briefed relevant team members. MP gets tough on tariffsWhich? is also committed to influencing policy that affects consumers, so this work is carried through to the company’s social media activity as well. Soon after the launch of the Which? ‘tackle tariffs’ campaign to simplify energy tariffs, @DECCgovuk held a Q&A session on Twitter. At the helm was Greg Barker MP. Which? saw this as an excellent opportunity to test the waters about his view on the campaign, so asked him whether he thought tariffs needed to be simplified. This was more than any minister had said publicly on this issue at that point, and Which? is looking forward to working with the minister if, as he says, Ofgem’s tariff reforms don’t go far enough. Ecotricity’s misleading banner adsA consumer tweeted at the @WhichAction account saying he thought Ecotricity’s online promise to ‘price match the big six’ was misleading. Which? agreed, since it only matches the standard (i.e. most expensive) tariffs from the big suppliers. Within a few hours of telling the energy provider to remove this promise, Ecotricity had redesigned the website, changing its advertisement to a ‘Fair price promise’ BMI Baby doesn’t play fairA Which? campaign to stop 'rip-off' debit and credit card surcharges was soon followed by the airline BMI Baby emailing its customers to claim that its 'fares are fairer'. A consumer who had supported the campaign emailed; ‘Having seen this, I thought that maybe the Which? campaign is already starting to hit home’.Although on the surface BMI Baby claimed to be addressing the issue, research by Which? found this was hot air. Which? then took this to Twitter:“@bmibaby_com You say you've made fares clearer and more transparent. So why do you add £9 surcharge at last minute for card payment?”The company replied by inviting Which? to interview its MD Julian Carr, dodging the real issue. However, by holding this dialogue publicly, BMI Baby inadvertently helped raise awareness of the Which? surcharges campaign - 40,000 people signed the pledge to stamp out unfair surcharges. After pressure from both Which? and consumers, the Office of Fair Trading has agreed to take enforcement action against companies. It also asked the government to take further measures to ban excessive surcharges.This case study has been nominated in the category of Best Charity/Not-for-profit Social Media Strategy at the Social Buzz Awards 2011

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