JOLIE: Social media companies can’t prioritize profit over customer experience

Many of us have thought about doing business with companies that started on social media. From the localized online business started by a high school classmate to the larger company started by a social media influencer with a huge following, we’ve all seen the rise in the accessibility of starting a business.

Social media helps aspiring business owners achieve their goals without the obstacle of bureaucracy. But can we accept this model as objectively good?

Online business owners can now use social media to market their products in such an enticing way that they carelessly bypass the planning that a stable business requires. A lack of regulation in these companies also results in harmful or ineffective products being shipped to consumers without much consequence.

The recent TikTok Pink Sauce controversy is a prime example of starting a business prematurely. Chef Pii, a Miami-based home cook, promoted her secret pink sauce on TikTok and it went viral. Concerns about food poisoning were raised because bottles of Pink Sauce were shipped in bags instead of boxes, and sometimes even arrived damaged. The condiment’s ingredients included milk, but no refrigerated housing or nutritional labeling was produced.

“It’s a small business, y’all,” Boss Pii said in a since-deleted TikTok. “This is a small company that is growing very, very quickly.”

Though pink sauce was trending in the July 2022 heat, Chef Pii chose not to take precautions to ensure the viral condiments were safely delivered to customers.

In the throes of commercial success, small business owners have come to use their size as an excuse for poor service. Although small businesses don’t have hundreds of employees or the kind of machines that facilitate product launches, they can choose how many orders they take. Better decisions about their capacity constraints would improve their business.

When there is limited product availability or perhaps shipping delays, business owners are often not transparent about these issues, which ultimately displeases customers.

Mariee Revere, CEO and founder of MoonXCosmetics, has received hundreds of customer complaints about the vegan skincare line’s slow shipping. Worship argued that customers have to expect a longer delivery time due to the manual work. It took months for MoonXCosmetics products to get to customers, and some didn’t receive their orders at all.

Going viral can be a double-edged sword for social media business owners. The random occurrence of one’s business going viral can boost sales on a large scale, but the business owner is likely to be surprised by the surge in orders and face difficulties in the launch process.

An obsession with business growth and revenue can lead online business owners to be unrealistic about what is feasible. MoonXCosmetics is known for making $1 million in 8 minutes, yet customer reviews suggest the online store was not fit to sell so many products in such a short amount of time.

In the Hulu docuseries The Dropout, Elizabeth Holmes falls into the same pit, albeit in a completely different ball game. Holmes, the founder of the health technology company Theranos, was aware that her blood testing machines (dubbed “Edison”) were malfunctioning and giving erroneous results. A rise in notoriety and demands from well-funded investors to sell Edison devices knowingly led to Theranos Sale and distribution of defective products.

Instead of revising business strategies to ensure the growing consumer base gets quality products in a timely manner, social media entrepreneurs should choose to stick with a business model that caters to a smaller consumer base.

“I do it as professionally as possible. Because it’s not the most professional, but… it is what it is because there’s only so much I can do and open a shop and package online orders,” Atira Lyons, designer of luxury silk and velvet durags, said, “My Goodness The team is still very small, but we do a lot… That’s the only way to grow if you try too hard.”

This attitude is neither sustainable nor practical. Business owners often voice their objection to a standard 9-to-5 job, but they often replicate the work dynamics they wish to avoid, sometimes in even worse ways. Social media business owners experiencing mass success are common exposed because they overworked and underpaid their employees. How are these employee experiences different from the Amazon employees who express concerns about their working conditions?

Small online entrepreneurs shouldn’t resist sacrificing their services to customers if that means better quality products and safer deliveries. Unbridled ambition is not only problematic for these owners’ long-term business goals, it is also not conducive to ideal producer-consumer relationships.

When business owners prioritize profit over employee and consumer experience, premature business expansion is likely. Social media makes entrepreneurship seem deceptively easy, but this is an area that existing and aspiring small business owners should enter ethically and methodically. C’est tout.

Faith Jolie is a junior in the School of Arts and Sciences with a focus on journalism and media studies as well as women’s and gender studies. Her column “C’est Tout” appears every other Monday.

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