Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Responding in Social Media

For quite awhile I’ve been using a conceptualization of social media with 5 steps:

Listen > Speak > Engage > Support > Cocreate

Recently I’ve noticed conceptualizations that have these three elements
• Listen
• Respond
• Engage
They aren’t necessarily in this order (although Listen is always first—always!) and some have an additional element; I’m going to call it
• Collaborate. That covers working with both B2B and B2C customers in way that is supportive and that encourages them to add their own content. It gives me a more concise strategy concept to work through over the next week or so, starting with the two listening posts on Friday and Monday. All are issues I’ve written about before; all need updating.

The other thing that occurs to me as I’ve read through posts and articles is that there may be a discernable difference in the terms that public relations and marketing practitioners use in talking about responding. There is the true crisis situation, for which PR needs to have a plan in place. I’m talking about responding in a marketing sense—responding to everyday brand-related conversations. Some of them are positive, some may be negative. Some can spiral into a real crisis or at least a black eye for the brand. Such was the ill-conceived Motrin ad last fall. Frederic Lardinois, writing on ReadWriteWeb, points out that Motrin bowed to a vocal minority and removed the ad, ignoring whether it was offensive to a majority of their target audience and not engaging with that audience on the web. See the ad on the RWW link (or many other places!) and judge the ad for yourself. RWW points out that the brand response was a press release. I’ll have to take their word for it; I can’t find it on either the Motrin site or the McNeil Pharmaceuticals site. That’s a really effective response, right??? Sounds to me as if they were embarrassed and trying to forget all about it!

So how should you go about responding to everyday conversations? I found this chart by Laura Bergells that really squares with my own experience. I’ve come to think of it as ‘social media triage’ and someone (or a team) has to be responsible for responding. Unless it’s an assigned responsibility issues are likely to fall through the cracks. Of course, that assumes that the business saw it in the first place—is your listening operation well honed?

My own experience says:

• Deciding whether it’s positive or negative is the essential first step. That’s usually easy, although sometimes you may not be entirely sure and have to keep watching that specific line of conversation to be sure.
o If it’s positive, seriously consider saying “thank you.” All of us get thanked too infrequently, and it’s just nice. Beyond that, it may start a useful conversation.

• If it’s negative, there’s a consideration that a lot of people don’t think carefully about. Does it really need to be answered? Laura Bergells calls them ‘trolls;’ I have some other names for them; ‘boneheads’ is the nicest. They are actually rather easy to identify. What they say often doesn’t make sense and it is borderline, if at all, relevant. They tend to be ‘serial commenters’ either on a specific subject or just for their own entertainment. You may have to follow comment feeds for awhile to be sure. But no one takes them seriously—you shouldn’t either. They will quickly move on to something else or they will get entangled in arguments with other commenters. Either way, stay out of it.

• If it’s a factual error, you need to fix it, politely but immediately. Do you need internal experts you can call on to ensure the accuracy of your facts? If so, make sure they are lined up before the need arises.

• If customers are reporting a negative experience with your brand, you need to respond in a way that resolves the issue. That simply goes back to good customer service—apologize, take ownership of the problem, fix it, or at least explain why you cannot provide a perfect remedy. People are the angriest if they are ignored. Saying you are sorry, offering whatever restitution is appropriate, goes a long way.

Some of this is policy. I like Fresh Networks posts on writing your social media policy. Here’s an interesting post about an experience ESPN had that includes their policy. I recently ran across a discussion of Cisco’s social media policy; this appears to be the current posting.

The very existence of those policies suggests a tension in the way social media is handled by organizations. On one hand, certain people must have clear responsibilities for things like monitoring brand-related conversation. On the other hand, everyone in the organization should consider social media part of their job description. (Does that remind you of discussions of “customer orientation” in Marketing 101? It should!) In fact, a lot of communities rely heavily on members for monitoring; they can be an excellent early warning system. How do you keep these roles straight?

I come back to a simple rule from customer service. Everyone in the firm must be concerned about the customer; not everyone is a good customer service rep. As long as we’re talking about training and internal organization, that’s controllable. In today’s brave new world of social media a lot of that control has flown out the window. That’s why companies must have not only social media strategies, but policies about how they deal with customer conversations and the participation and response of their employees!


Unknown said...

Thanks for the mention, Mary Lou. I'm glad you liked the chart -- I like how you call it "triage". A great term.

"Bonehead" for "Trolls" works, too!


MaryLou Roberts said...

So I thought--kindred spirits--thanks, Laura!