They Said What?
Rushing to defend a brand, product, or service just because it attracts a negative blog post is not necessarily the best course of action. Although no voice should go unheard, there are degrees of response. If the blogger's audience is limited to perhaps only a few readers a day, then should an organization mobilize the full weight of their PR department in reaching out to them? Obviously not. It is this contextual piece that is also important in the listening. Know who you are listening to and what is the person's angle? Who else is listening to him? Does he have a platform? Can he influence your audience? This is why the listening piece of social media is a lot more complex than many marketers realize. It is not enough to count how many times your product was mentioned or how many times your branded tweets were retweeted. Knowing the level of influence of those you are interacting with is crucial to being able to cope with the volume of interactions that many brands will receive.
By making these assessments, an organization can prioritize its outreach and its responses. In effect, you are carrying out social media triage. This helps to ensure that the resources you have, which might be limited, are directed where they are needed most and can achieve most. I have never encountered a marketing department that had unlimited resources. In fact, it's usually quite the opposite—they have too much to do with too few bodies to achieve it.
Trying to counter every criticism with a well-thought-out blog post, tweet, Facebook post, or video comment would burn out most marketing departments before they ever started achieving goals in social media. By targeting their responses, organizations can achieve the same effect. Responding to those who have a large influence will often reach the other commentators on the same topic. Many of the secondary or less influential content creators will have used the topic simply to generate traffic—they are the "me too" content creators who are adding to the overall noise because they see the potential for them of posting about a trending topic. By answering the most influential of the content creators—or if possible, the originator—the entire group of commentators are often answered. Instead of making 100 responses, a company can often quiet the crowd with one or two well-placed responses. This frees up the resources to focus on other activities and still allows the organization to be responsive.
For example, suppose an organization notices that they have some detractors in the blogosphere. If that organization takes the time to identify who they are, what their reach is, the number of visitors their blog gets, how many comments each post receives, the company can decide if it is worth doing some form of counter blog activity or outreach to the content creator. Often the creators are looking for a response from the organization, and when they get it they can turn out to be quite amenable to writing reasoned pieces.
This willingness to reach out to critics is an important part of any social media strategy and requires buy in from the very top of the organization. Marketing, PR, corporate communications, and customer support all require that a plan be in place before it's needed and not after the fact. After the C-Suite starts noticing bad news, it is too late to try to convince them that outreach will help. Likely, all they want to do is make it go away, often by stemming the flow of information rather than directing it.
Fear of bad news is often the reason that the C-Suite gives for not wanting to engage in social media. The reality is not that they fear the bad news itself, but they fear their organization's ability to deal with it adequately. This is where the social media strategy comes into its own. By having contingencies in place, a marketing department, or whichever department is tasked with the creation and operation of the strategy, can show its value and the value of social media.
What about positive comments? Contrary to what the C-Suite might think, it is not all doom and gloom in the world of social media. Often customers are only too pleased to finally have a channel through which they can express their appreciation of a job well done, a product that performs better than expected, or a service that made a difference to them. The hotel industry leaves comment cards in rooms, but no one fills them out when they have something positive to say. They are completed only when something went wrong. Social media is the place where the happy customers can leave their comments, to be seen not only by the staff but by other potential customers and, just as important, competitors. How amazing is that? Customers who want to say great things about the organization! Responding to these, even with a simple thank you is often enough to create an increased level of affinity, not only from customers making the observations but from their networks as well.
This simple act of "noticing" someone and acknowledging them is a well-documented social phenomenon. Doing so creates a pleasurable experience for the person receiving the recognition, the person doing the recognizing s and observers. This is a side-effect of the public nature of social media, but one that is extremely valuable in its application and in its ability for companies to build affinity through social media channels. Although this might sound very calculated and cold, it is no more so than any of the techniques used by mass media channels to create emotional responses to images, sounds, and situations. Commercials on television tell us stories of where and how products are used, to the point that sometimes the product becomes almost invisible. The story sometimes becomes more important than the product itself. This strategy is effective because viewers have a positive emotional response and therefore associates that feeling with the commercial and the product or service being advertised. Learning the techniques for doing this is a book unto itself and certainly not something we can dive into here. However, keeping this in mind will help your company not miss opportunities to have a positive effect on your customers and, in turn, increase your bottom line.