An executive at McDonald’s was quoted in an article I read recently that the head of McDonald’s social media is the customer. It’s a realistic assessment – the whole reason for social media is to engage with your customers, be authentic and build trust. Social media will also point out your flaws and the key question is how fast your company will address those flaws. I believe this will do more to define you as a company in the eyes of your customers than any other brand building program you have. Today, your brand is ALL about this communication.
I will repeat – social media is not an island for your marketing programs and public outreach. It is not for you to push the drone of empty promises or marketing platitudes. It must be an engine for your larger marketing strategy and should be integrated. After all, conversations about YOU take place all over the place – not just on your own social media feeds, especially if you’re a B2C consumer based business. So LISTEN. You can't respond to conversations you don't see. Whether you pay attention or not, the conversations are happening so you might as well catch negative buzz and identify issues before they build momentum into brand destruction.
Set up Google alerts for your brand and industry key words. Keep a close eye on your Facebook page if you have one (and not advocating that you do establish one necessarily – that’s a whole other blog). Listen on Twitter. If your B2B listen in on Linked In. Read reviews on sites such as Yelp, Zagat or others that may be pertinent to your business. Find out forums and online communities that pertain to your business, join them and check in on them from time to time. I had great luck using Radian6 now owned by SalesForce.Com to automate this, but you can do it manually or try Google Analytics.
Focus here is the key as it can get overwhelming without it. Negative comments are not always worth responding to. I have three simple rules I suggest you follow.
1. Avoid the situations where the criticism is on a really small blog or forum
2. When it's a blatant attack that is clearly rude and outrageous, chances are anyone who reads it will see the critic as having a personal problem and unreasonable. Leave it be. Often it is gratifying to hear authentic rebuttals from your loyal customers. This is golden.
3. There are internet users called 'trolls' – and no they are not the cute little dolls with the spiked hair they sell in stores. These Internet trolls are people who are just looking to pick a fight – so avoid them. They are most often outrageous and rude in their posts as well and easy to spot.
If you are responding – ACT quickly and like a human – not some robot. Put a human face on this and use engaging, human language. This is not the time to tell them they made the mistake – or explain the reason for the issue – as logical as it might be. Four solid suggestions here.
Here is an example of a response you might consider to a negative post.
“Hi, my name is Charlie Born, and I hear you. We are looking into the issue now and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. If you have any questions, contact me directly at xxxx”.
I’m not suggesting this is a boiler plate response you should use, but as an example, note a few things. I gave them a name. Now they have a human ‘face’ connected to your company. I didn't apologize or try to explain the problem or even solve it right away. I said I would look into it – so I'm suggesting I will make it right but this gives me time to figure out what to do – but I responded right away. Remember – timing is key. Act fast. The value of fast reaction can’t be measured, but the perception is that no matter how mad a reasonable customer might be, they will be pleased they were heard and you engaged. Action is not for robots – but when it's done right by putting a human face on the issue – and you do this consistently – you win trust – and that builds to loyalty. I often suggest that your response should be crafted as if that person were standing in front of you and is not a virtual entity. Try to convey that sincerity and human touch in your online communication too.
Do not make social media a check mark in a string of random acts of marketing. Know your audience, understand their needs and engage with them on a consistent and real basis. Creating and implementing a social media policy is work. It can be extremely dangerous if done poorly – but extremely rewarding from a loyalty perspective if done well. There is nothing I know that turns customers into advocates faster than an open forum on social media implemented in an engaging and open manner. Just like the symbol of Yin and Yang, the issues of social media are not completely black or white, just as things in life with your customers are not completely black or white. While "yin" might be the dark, passive, downward, cold, contracting, and weak side of social media, "yang" would be bright, active, upward, hot, expanding, and strong side. The shape of the yin and yang sections of the symbol actually gives you a sense of the continual movement of these two energies, yin to yang and yang to yin, causing everything to happen. And so it is with social media. Social media will point out your flaws and will also highlight your strengths. Grab that energy for your company – as that is the opportunity to build trust with your customers and loyalty but only if you respond quickly and engage in an authentic way.