When Embu farmer Patrick Njiru posted impressive pictures of various tree seedlings in a farmers’ Facebook group, his intention was to net clients.
To add to his marketing drive, he included screenshots of pages and links where local newspapers had interviewed him.
Going by the many comments and inquiries from interested farmers, he was sure that his horticultural nursery was in for good business.
Then someone posted what perhaps drove away potential customers; cash transaction details of a contractual agreement that went awry, including a telephone number were laid bare. And a lynch mob descended on him.
To complicate the matter, Njiru, who is also a pastor, uses that title on his social media accounts and the online audience would hear none of his explanations, terming him a conman clothed in ‘righteousness’.
Damage was done and he never posted anything in that group again.
Social media can be a good place to promote one’s business brand and drive sales.
Martin Mwaura markets his products mainly through Facebook. He operates a physical electronics shop in Nakuru town and runs flash sales every month to promote his business in the competitive sector.
“Facebook covers more ground than other social media channels and most of the physical traffic to the shop is from customers using that platform,” he says.
The reason for flash sales — where an item can be sold for as low as Sh49 against the prevailing market price — is to give customers the items they have been saving for at a cheap price, he says.
“It also helps us to avoid overstayed stock and gives us an opportunity to bring to the clients something new,” Mwaura says.
The challenge is usually dealing with those who miss out. The opportunity window for cashing in on crazy prices is limited, running from the morning of a particular day to a specific midday hour, after which the prices revert to normal.
“A customer may arrive past the opportunity window and may leave feeling cheated if I sold items at prevailing market prices. I have to make concessions and sell at a loss or to avoid any negative feedback and lose valuable customers in the process,” he says.
His advice: “Be prepared for everything even if it is to your disadvantage when using social media platforms.”
With the wide use of social media helping a brand to reach customers easily, it can also be where a brand can be tarnished in equal measure.
When people do a product review or share their experience doing business with you and their comments are good, they’re invariably referring others to you. The same cannot be said of negative comments.
A hashtag depicting a brand in a negative light can go viral and customers will keep away. A tarnished reputation is a hard sell.
Rachael Wanjiku, who sells men’s clothes through her social media accounts, says cyberspace is a place one needs to tread carefully.
“Disgruntled customers can post damaging comments or make posts that have the potential of ruining a business,” she says.
She adds that cyber risks are real. Someone once lifted images and photos of items she had posted to create a parody account and took payments for goods that were not delivered.
Wanjiku then had to endure the indignity of being dragged into a buyer awareness page on Facebook as a con artist. However, the number the con artist used was never traced to her.
James Mugo, an IT expert, adds that social media accounts can have security breaches and can easily be hacked into.
“This would have an impact on one’s brand. Think of the implications a breached account can have on people out there,” he says.
“No one may trust you if their information can be accessed by a third party.”
Mugo says there are legal implications as well with social media marketing, and one should be careful when choosing those platforms.
“Before one jumps to social media marketing, it pays to check if there are legal frameworks to guide the same. A breach of such laws can be costly in terms of litigation and denting one financially.”
Joseph Kamotho, who sells men’s wear under the brand name JD Trendy Men’s Wear on social media, has noted competitors using similar tactics he employs in getting customers.
“Even the catchy lines I use are copied without any alterations except contact numbers. There’s no doubt a competitor will sit down and study one’s methods and use them,” he says, terming it a lack of market creativity.
He, however, says a competitor can go ahead and be better in business than the one they’re copying.
To be in the game, Kamotho has maintained a consistent presence on social media with each fresh post showing a new item in store.
“You need to be interactive in order to stay relevant and grow your brand. You don’t have to sit back and watch the competitors run the show and wonder where things went wrong,” he says.
A brand can get its image battered in cyberspace. Cases abound of disgruntled employees tarnishing their former employers on social media, thus placing a brand name in a bad light.
No customer would want to be associated with a company receiving slack from every side. Worse still, how the company handles complaints from disgruntled customers can affect a brand.
Take a more recent example where a customer complained about ordering a Brazilian wig from an online store only to receive a strand of hair.
The online vitriol from other disgruntled customers sharing their bad experiences put the company’s credibility in doubt, with hardly any feedback received despite the numerous tags the company got.
It pays to be interactive with your customers. Some businesses ask their customers a few questions or rate them through their online platforms or apps. Depending on feedback, they can choose to improve on an area of service.
At the end of the day, no one wants to see negative information posted on social media about their business.