I think it’s fantastic that companies are using social media to promote their brands and communicate more directly with their customers. It’s wild when I write about my favorite wine and the New Zealand winemaker actually responds to me on Twitter. Great brand monitoring St. Clair (update: fixed incorrect URL)! There are so many inspiring examples of brands that are providing real support for customers via social media or are getting out in front of disasters/problems/recalls in a genuinely transparent way. Their involvement in social media is simply a natural extension of their corporate culture, which is transparent, human and customer-focused.

On the other hand, there are companies that are only paying lip service to social media. They think that if they have an account on Twitter or Facebook it makes up for their crappy products or service. Some will delete Facebook wall posts from critics or won’t allow wall posts from customers at all. Many will only selectively respond to customer complaints on Twitter or will only respond to positive customer responses (to make it look as if people on Twitter are only saying glowing things about them). When they do respond to criticism or problems, it’s not in any way that leads to satisfaction. For these companies, Facebook and Twitter are simply window dressing, thinly disguising the closed, soulless, profit-centered corporate culture within.

I’ve been having major problems with the screencasting software Adobe Captivate. When I converted some instructional screencasts from Captivate 3 to 4, they looked fine on preview, but when I published them as an .avi file, the audio became unsynched 2/3 of the way through and got way behind the video (to the point where the audio was cut off at the end of the video). This happened with multiple videos in the exact same way. So, as Adobe suggests, I posted to their forums. That was on June 11th. To date, I have not received a response from anyone regarding my issue. I also submitted a bug report, since I couldn’t find any other way to email my issue to anyone. Never received a response to that either.

After waiting almost two weeks for a response, I tried to contact Adobe Support. First, I spent a significant amount of time trying to figure out how to contact support and actually considered creating a Captivate screencast on how horribly designed Adobe’s support site is (I ultimately decided that drinking a glass of wine would be a better use of my time). Finally, I called the only number I could find and discovered that none of the options matched with what I needed, so I tried to get an operator. I got put through to four different people, each of whom needed me to repeat my phone number, email address, Captivate serial number and what my issue is. Do you people have any sort of tracking system???? Finally, I get a Captivate support guy and I tell him what my issue is. He looks up my serial number and says that he can’t work with me unless I purchase a support plan. My response was “I have to pay you to fix a bug in your software?” His response was that it probably wasn’t a bug because he hadn’t heard many reports of anything like this and it might just be user error. My response “so there’s no way for me to get help for my issue?” His response was “not unless you get a support plan.” I was beyond livid. Basically they’re saying that 1) it’s probably my fault that it’s not working and 2) they won’t stand behind their product.

By now I’d now wasted at least 3-day’s-worth of my time, which cost way more than if I just gave in and bought their competitor product, Camtasia. I’d vented on Twitter about my experiences with Adobe and someone suggested that I contact @Adobe_Care on Twitter. My husband’s response to that was that “Adobe only cares about turning you upside down and shaking the money out of your pockets.” That person apparently let @Adobe_Care know that I was having issues and the next day I got a tweet from them asking if I still needed help. I let them know that I was told I couldn’t get support without purchasing a support plan. They told me they’d get someone to contact me the next day. Huh?

After telling them that I was available until 3:30 pm ET, someone from support called me at 4:00 pm (right as I was about to leave to pick my son up from daycare). They co-browsed with me and saw the issue I was having with Captivate. They had me send them the file and told me they’d work on it and get back to me. The support person was still rather unfriendly and impatient with me, but at least she listened.

Do I think they’re going to find a solution? Doubtful. But what really bothers me is the idea that I got special treatment because I complained about the company on Twitter. I go through the recommended support channels and am not only told I can’t get help but am insulted. Then I use Twitter and get treated like a human being (or as well as anyone can hope for when dealing with Adobe). So basically what they’re saying is that Twitter is the best way to get help with Adobe issues and if you’re not on Twitter basically you’re screwed. This creates a situation where the digerati — who are likely more savvy with software already — are given better service than the people who don’t use social media and probably need support the most.

Social media can put a human face on a company and help them build more direct relationships with their customers. Look at companies like Zappos and Newegg. But, too often, social media only gives a soulless corporation that doesn’t give a damn about the customer the opportunity to put up window dressing that makes them look like they actually care. And, sadly, some people don’t look beyond the window dressing.

Just because a company is on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. doesn’t mean they’re 2.0. It doesn’t mean they care. The real test of a company is how they treat the average customer, not how they treat the loud, whiny geek with the Twitter account (and by that, I mean me).