For so much of the 20th century, Sears’ name loomed large in the American consciousness. “Sears” has taken quite a beating recently. The current recession has drastically cut demand for the durable goods that are Sears’ bread and butter. The retailer still hasn’t quite bounced back after how it suffered at the advent of online shopping.

Sears Crosstown by nichcollins on Flickr

"Sears Crosstown" by nichcollins on Flickr

But online shopping has quite a lot in common with Sears’ catalog origins, so it’s nice to see that they seem to realize how important it is to have a strong online presence.

It’s just too bad they don’t seem to know what to do with it.

While it’s a great step in the right direction for Sears to have a public profile on Facebook, there’s a slight catch: they put information out there, but they don’t seem to check back for their fans’ responses.

This seems like it might be okay, but when you scan their wall, you’ll see that there are 23 posts from customers – seven of which are complaints. That’s almost a third of all the complaints, and they aren’t the softer side of Sears complaints, either. These customers aren’t merely dissatisfied; they have vitriol enough to fuel a thousand Craftsman mowers. These people feel abused and ignored.

Sears’ apparent response? Ignore them.

That’s a bad move, no matter how you look at it.

Now, to be fair, it should be noted that Facebook doesn’t currently notify the administrators of a public profile when fans post to their wall. The people managing Sears’ page need to keep an eye on it every day if they want to stay updated. And it’s clear that something isn’t happening like it should be.

The employee(s) responsible are treating Facebook like just another task. Make a post, move along. They aren’t responding to negative comments – or positive comments. There is simply no apparent understanding that social media functions and thrives based on interaction.

Looking for answers, we went to MySears.com, the social network Sears started for itself. We signed up for an account and made a post on their message boards asking why this was happening. To our amazement, this began turning things around – within hours of our posting, happy, zealous Sears employees found our post, and set about responding to the angry customers.

We love watching people who clearly love to make things right – especially when they understand how to do so online. It’s too bad, though, that there is nothing on these employees’ Facebook avatars identifying them as legitimate (if non-sanctioned) representatives of Sears.

Whoever it is who posts the fun discounts, sales, and videos to the Sears Facebook public profile needs to stop turning a blind eye to the fact that there will occasionally be a customer who gets the raw end of the deal.

If Sears were to publicly make things right with the customer complaints on their Facebook wall, it would show to all other customers that, though things do go wrong, Sears is committed to their customers.

We like to call this possibility “a public relations coup.”

This is true for any business – the easiest way to show the online world that you’re focused on your customers is to actually focus on them. Interact with them. You can make the wrong things right, changing detractors into promoters, and turning the loyal into evangelists. It’s not called “social” media for nothing.

There are important models out there. Try Dell Computer, or Comcast. Even smaller retailers like Zappos shoes continue to make a name for themselves as companies run by real people – the kind you could meet on the street and have a conversation with.

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