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Burning Galaxy S4: What Samsung needs to learn about social media

S4 burned

Samsung has attempted to silence a complaint on YouTube about a Galaxy S4 catching fire while charging. As social media outbursts go, attempting to hide the problem often backfires, with even worse consequences. Was there a better way for Samsung to have handled the issue?

Samsung is the most popular Android smartphone manufacturer, which means a good majority of Android phones out there are made by the South Korean brand. Given this, Samsung needs to protect its image as a reputable device maker. But what’s the best way to handle complaints and warranty claims that spread virally through social media?

YouTube user Ghostlyrich had a bad experience with his Galaxy S4, which caught fire on its charging port while plugged in. Now devices burning up while charging is not exactly unique to this case, as an iPhone user in China actually died of electrocution and burning while trying to use the device whilst charging. However, that particular case involved a third-party charger of questionable quality. Ghostlyrich reportedly used the stock Galaxy S4 charger on a device that’s only a couple months old.

With the device under warranty, Ghostlyrich then tried to get a replacement. After being “jerked around” by Samsung, he posted a video on YouTube to prove his claim. But Samsung, instead of simply replacing the phone, wrote to say a replacement will be given once Ghostlyrich has deleted the video. You can find a copy of the agreement with takedown notice here. It included a clause requiring the device owner to maintain the confidentiality of the settlement and release Samsung of legal liability.

Ghostlyrich has then posted another video discussing the takedown notice, which actually became more viral than the original one (with about four times as many views). Comments on this particular video have been mixed, with some questioning the authenticity of the takedown letter, but with comment posters mostly decrying Samsung’s attempt to hide the issue.

Did Samsung handle the issue correctly?

To my mind, takedown notices like these are likely to be standard issue among customer service departments, especially if the issue were a minor one. Perhaps Samsung is trying to bank on the customer’s need for convenience. If you were in Ghostlyrich’s place, would you have opted to simply get a replacement device sooner, if you would simply have to be quiet about the problem? Samsung likely wanted to protect itself from further concerns and liabilities once it has replaced the defective product.

Perhaps Samsung did not expect the issue to take on a life of its own.

It is, however, bad practice in terms of public relations and social media management. Sweeping the dust under the rug is not exactly going to solve the problem, especially in this day and age when social media users go excited about consumer concerns like these. Social media users love rooting for David (the user) vs. Goliath (the big company). It does not do well for a brand’s goodwill for the public to think they’re more concerned about image than a customer’s happiness.

It would have been better for Samsung to address the issue in a more positive manner, including replacing the device without condition, and promising to study the root cause of the issue — assuming it is proven that the damage is covered by the warranty, of course (i.e., there was no misuse). The brand would have probably been cast in a better light, even. What’s done is done, however. And Samsung might want to be more social media savvy in the future.