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Controlling the conversation

October 13th, 2009

megaphone“… But what if people say something bad about us? On our own site? How would that look?”

This is probably the number 1 fear from executives about opening up the corporate or brand website to user-generated content. And they have a good point. What if you build it and they actually do come? To complain?

I’m here to say that not only is that a possibility, it’s probably going to be the reality. Probably not what the executive wants to hear. But the real questions shouldn’t be ‘What do we do if…’ but ‘What do we do when…’

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. If you have a product or service that holds a promise that you don’t deliver, you have bigger problems than the comments on your website or public forums. You have a bad, unsustainable business model. But let’s assume that you have a good product or service and you strive to deliver value to the customer. You’re still going to have some people not happy and they may vent on your site. That’s not a bad thing.


That’s right. It’s not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, this is a perfect opportunity to turn it to your advantage. Everyone knows that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. How you respond to those issues makes a big difference.

  1. Allow comments on your site and your postings:
    First things first. If you want to be true to the ‘social’ part of your social strategy, you have to let your customers be heard. Their comments are the voice you’ve been wanting to hear. Unfiltered by your staff. Again, if you are holding your end of the bargain, you will have good comments more often than the critical ones, but encourage both. Use the comments as an opportunity to get market research from the people that took the time to come to your site. But that doesn’t mean you have to let anything through.
  2. Have a visible and permissible moderation policy:
    You do have to moderate your comments. But your moderation policy has to be clearly posted and fair. Criticism must be allowed, and even encouraged. However, language must be civil. No spam, advertising, link bait, personal attacks or off-topic comments. Otherwise, even if the criticism seems unfair, it stays.
  3. Respond to your evangelists and critics alike
    Let people know that you’re listening. That doesn’t mean that you have to respond to every comment. But comments that are critical or evangelical deserve a nod of acknowledgment. As simple as “Thank you” or “Much appreciated” for good comments is enough.
  4. Respond with a human voice
    For the critics, you have a choice. For simple customer service issues, a comment from the company stating, ‘Please contact Joe directly at this email address and he’ll make sure your issue gets the attention it requires” is remarkable. Not only are you helping to resolve an issue for one of your customers, but you’re doing so in a public way, letting everyone else know that you do, in fact, care about your customers. In other words, do not have all responses to your customers come from your PR department. Do not regurgitate the marketing speaking points. If you do it correctly, you may turn customer complaints into kudos as @comcastbill has been able to do for Comcast.
  5. Allow SMEs through the company to respond on the company’s behalf
    SMEs stands for Subject Matter Experts. If there are questions or concerns about a specific product, let the people in charge of that area respond with a human touch. Answer questions clearly and directly. Again, not just with a marketing line, but as if you actually *do* care about what the respondent is saying.
  6. Spiral out. Respond on other sites, not just your own
    Use an alert tool, such as Google Alerts to monitor your name in the news. BlogPulse, or Radian6 to monitor what’s going on in the Social Media space. If you see mentions (good or bad), go to those sites and respond. Let the world know that you care about your customers, where ever they are talking.

Building loyalty and evangelists comes from not just having a good product or service, but making sure that your customers feel like they are being heard.

Categories: social-media, Strategy
  1. James Hal
    October 16th, 2009 at 13:53 | #1

    Three things I would like to add: (Once again, really great, well thought-out post)
    We do want our audience (customers and non-customers) to love us. The important thing to remember is that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. If you have negative comments, that translates, in a real business (P&L) sense, to an audience that wants to continue to do business with you if you can do better. Satisfy their need and they become advocates of your brand. There are many examples of this but my favourite of course is: David Knapp at Bank of America: http://twitter.com/BofA_Help. On the side of innovative and the jury is still out see: http://www.hsbcreviews.com/

    I work in one of the most regulated, controlled substance, corporate environments there are, banking. What I tell our executive team is that these negative comments are happening whether we “listen” or not. Someone coming to our online environment and leaving a negative comment is effort on their behalf. We need to respect that effort, capture it, and use it to deepen our relationships with our customers. Then I leave them with a question; if someone walked into a branch and had a negative comment would we ever tolerate our people ignoring them?

    Ensure that your intents within your managed, user generated content areas, are legally reviewed and expressed. I know it feels like frosh week but it can turn ugly if the proper due diligence is not applied, we need to ensure we proceed with rigor. The other side to that is live with the buzz-word axioms of Social Media, specifically Transparency and Authenticity, and the audience will bond with your through the trials.

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