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Do trending controversies hold companies accountable or offer them an opportunity for free advertising?

by Sarkar Saheb

Hoping for praise online, there are companies today that rush to send vouchers to customers who scold their services on social media. “The customer is always right” was a strategy well before the Internet age, but it didn’t apply to all customers all the time. An overly-disruptive customer could once easily be kicked out of a store and banned. Managers held this power without any fear of backlash. That is not the case in today’s era of democratic media, where any one voice can ripple far among a company’s customer base.

A recent example of how social media can create a pariah is financial and pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli, who found himself in the social pillory in September after purchasing the rights to the drug Daraprim, an irreplaceable component in medication for HIV-positive individuals and raising its price from $13 to $750 overnight. After he became known as the most hated man on social media, both Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the two most prominent Democratic presidential candidates, spoke out against his actions, and Sanders vowed to prevent such “unconscionable” price hikes if elected.

Otherwise, what did the social media furor achieve? Very little. The price remained the same, no action other than name-calling was taken against him, and when Shkreli considered lowering the price in November, he opted not to. His drug has no competition in the United States. His name returned to …

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