Although Harvey Norman’s head of social media, Gary Wheelhouse, accepts that most Harveys franchisees will have their own Facebook account, only his team is empowered to directly engage consumers. This policy has been set to promote a uniform strategy across the consumer electronic, furniture and bedding retail giant.

As reported on Appliance Retailer yesterday, Harvey Norman has taken a proactive approach to social media, which is in contrast to its heretofore absent expansion into online trade. This strategy includes both Facebook and Twitter, which are used to promote Harvey Norman interests, conduct competitions and engage consumers who are both happy and not so happy.

When it comes to this last facet of the platform, Wheelhouse and his social media team are ones in charge.

“Our social media policy is that franchisees can do whatever they like in terms of social media — there are 9.2 million Facebook users in Australia, so I can guarantee you the vast majority of Harvey Norman franchisees would be on Facebook — but when it comes to engaging with the customers online, it’s my team that does that, just so that we can give a uniform response,” Wheelhouse said.

So just what is the strategy for speaking to consumers through social media? Wheelhouse takes a novel approach.

“I try to imagine that if I were at a barbecue and hear someone say something in regards to Harvey Norman, I would feel compelled to turn around and say ‘Hi, I work for Harvey Norman, I might be able to help you with that’. That’s how I want the team of people that we have to think about social media.”

Harvey Norman being the iconic brand that it is, there is a lot of feedback to deal with, some of it negative. Wheelhouse said he thus far restrained from sending an angry or irate message, the kind that gets individuals and brands into trouble.

“I’ve got is a very good radar for that, and the other thing that I’ve got is three teenage kids, so I understand patience,” he said. “I’ve been in retail for a long time, I understand that if there are issues that need to be addressed and if there’s a customer that needs help, sometimes they might get upset with a brand, but when it comes to people, I don’t take it personally.

“I try to put myself in that position with the customer and I’m the person that’s going to be able to make sure that their issues — good or bad enquiries — get to the right person.”

Click here for Wheelhouse talking about competitions, complaints and customers