Rashida, a former graduate classmate of mine, tweeted the following just a week ago: “It’s sad sitting in a meeting about social/digital tools and hearing the antiquated: ‘What if the customers say bad things about us?’”
I replied: “Then you say: ‘They’re probably already saying bad things. You just can’t hear it yet.’”
If we can count on our publics for anything, we can count on them saying unfavorable things about our companies or organizations at some point—whether it’s to their peers or to others in the social space. However, if you haven’t done the necessary work to manage your company’s or organization’s reputation outside the social media realm, then you have just cause for concern.
Which brings me to Tim Worstall’s Aug. 5 Forbes article, “Maybe Business Should Not Invest in Marketing in Social Media like Facebook and Twitter?” I respect his argument, but the case he makes for “not investing in advertising” on social media had less to do with the money and return on investment involved but more to do with companies’ fears of setting themselves up for a barrage of criticism. And what types of companies does he use as examples? Banks.
“You can imagine that a bank trying to market a new mortgage offer is going to be less than happy when Twitter explodes into a storm of ‘What about Libor?’, ‘What about the billions we gave you?’” he writes.
This banking example is weak because the industry’s track record of protecting customers’ money and interests is deplorable. Customers and the general public are scorned and distrustful. So an honest and accessible medium like social media platforms must scare the daylights out of banking.
So how can companies and organizations with less volatile relationships with their publics engage with the public using social media but ease the sting of possible negative comments?
Decide who’s responsible for engagement. Decide the person(s) responsible for managing your social presences and engaging your communities. Keep communication with them constant and clear. They should be plugged into the key messages coming from your organization. In turn, they should be able to report what’s being said about your brand on social media.
Listen to the conversation. Pay attention to what your audience is saying about your brand or about industry issues that affect you. Is the sentiment growing enough to warrant a response?
Decide how to handle one-off insults. There are haters out there who spew random insults. This is no fault of your own. But you should have a plan for how to handle these random outbursts.
Have a plan for issues in the social space that escalate. There will be issues that arise in the field concerning your industry or your brand. Just a few years ago, someone would call or email your office to let you know what’s happened. Now you’re more likely to hear about it on social media first. Have a plan for determining when to escalate a situation and spring into crisis communication mode.
Use social media in a way that coincides with other public relations/marketing efforts. Be sure that the messages you convey in social media coincide with your overall public relations/marketing messages and goals. Be purposeful about your social activity as you are about your activity in other media.