I regularly write about the meteoric rise in the use of social media in the last decade. What is most interesting is how humans have demonstrated their capacity for expression by documenting their thoughts, emotions, and opinions on a daily basis — ranging from the momentous to the blatantly pointless.

There are billions of people writing posts accessible by billions, as our collective voices go out across Twitter, Facebook, and other social media vehicles. But does all this expression get us a better brand experience? And, more puzzling, do brands pay attention?

I was recently reading about the government blocks on Twitter and YouTube in Turkey that have been in place since last year; it made me wonder why the Turkish prime minister, as in China, would censor social media.

Is he is doing so purely to boost the world’s perception of his leadership credentials, especially in the run up to the election which took place March 30?

The bans on Twitter and YouTube were accomplished by  implementing a block that causes Internet service providers to intercept Google’s domain name. The PM’s reasoning: Allegedly sensitive information regarding the Syrian crisis — an audio recording between two officials that led to corruption allegations — was leaked online.

The prime minister is trying to manage the perception of his political party. There have been breaches of the block by those with the know-how to share with the world their objections of the unwarranted ban.

Although Turkey has imposed social media blocks in the past, this time there has been a stronger uprising; defiant protesters took to the streets on Election Day to make sure that their voices were heard.

The newly re-instated PM is also now vowing to “eradicate Twitter,” which is devastating to Turks who, despite living in a democracy, do not have the freedom to express opposition online.

Imagine our lives as consumers before we had access to brands’ social media accounts. In a sense, brands used to be untouchable, and communication was clearly one-way through public relations, marketing, and advertising.

These one-way messages all served the same  purpose: to build a brand’s perception in the long term, or shift a product in the short term. 

In  the last few years, our social media behaviours have led brand communications to become more two-way. Before social media, we were able only to write or phone in with comments and complaints.

Now, Twitter is the new “call-centre.” And Facebook is the new “word-of-mouth” vehicle, with more and more consumers sharing their sentiments about a brand by becoming a follower/fan and posting complaints online.

Such consumer behaviour on social media has forced brands to use these platforms as customer service tools. There are several examples of companies that have dealt well with complaints and some less well. 

Back in February, General Motors had to recall tens of thousands of cars, due to the discovery of faulty equipment in vehicles already on the road in the United States. The automobile company could have lost millions of loyal customers around the world and dropped its share price.

General Motors has worked hard to avoid a major blow to its business by utilising social media and analytical tools since then. This has allowed many individuals to contact GM with their concerns, which the company is dealing with more quickly than if they had come in through a call centre.

The company also has tracked that perception of its brand is still largely positive online.

Brands now have to walk a tightrope between using social media for promotion and customer service. Brand perception is made up of two elements: what a brand is saying and what a brand is actually doing.

This means it is ineffective to have numerous social media accounts that focus only on products and cool things that they are doing. These accounts need to work harder and show how they are improving the user experience and dealing with positive and negative comments — especially the negative.

In the world of social media, there is nothing more irksome than being publicly ignored by a brand, which is offset by how satisfying it feels to receive a public apology or compensation as a result of a comment.

Brands must pay particular attention to their customers’ comments online. As has been demonstrated in Turkey, trying to ignore or censor negativity is futile because users have a strong voice through social media.

Some comfort can be found in the availability of social media monitoring tools. Not only are they relatively cheap, they save masses of time and remove some of the manual process of data analysis.

Three of the top tools are:

  1. Brandwatch: Good for companies with international reach.

  2. SOMA from YouGov: Small businesses need to take advantage. 

  3. Sprout Social: Mainly aimed at business users.