Responding to and Monitoring Social Media
Two recent events that played out in social media with respect to large enterprises prompted us to think about how smaller businesses can better prepare for an online backlash to an event or marketing campaign. The first was the uproar over the Super Bowl ad run by the Coca Cola Company, which portrayed Americans singing “America the Beautiful” in multiple languages. Twitterverse and Facebook lit up immediately with angry commentary from viewers, e.g., #Speak American, and demands for a boycott of Coke products. Coke seemed ready for the onslaught and responded in measured tones by posting “@Coca- Cola: The only thing more beautiful than this country are the people who live here.” A few days later, the appointment of a South Asian executive, Satya Nadella, as the CEO of Microsoft created a similar buzz following some positive commentary in the business press. The news triggered negative comments against foreign-born CEOs, generally bringing up issues wholly unrelated to the man or his credentials for the position. Microsoft did not respond, allowing the furor to die down on its own.
Small and mid-size companies should similarly think through and be ready to respond to any negative commentary in the social media universe. Managing an online reputation is no longer an option; it is mandatory for any responsible business. The first step is to watch for mentions of your business online to be aware of what is being said. There are many free monitoring services available such as Hootsuite, Google Alerts, and Social Mention. More robust software may also be purchased. Some that have been recommended by professionals in the know include Sysomos, Radian6, and Lithium. These platforms continually search traditional (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) mediums, as well as blogs, forums, and more obscure sites to identify mentions of a company, its employees, products, and services. The key is to respond quickly if necessary before an issue goes viral or encourages others to join in the complaint.
Some tips on handling social media responses are provided below:
Respond Promptly to Questions on Company Sites: Respond to queries that show up on the company’s own websites and forums as quickly as possible but certainly within the business day. A failure to respond not only affects the questioner but all the other users on the site watching the post sit unanswered.
Address Complaints and Negative Comments: Whether you choose to apologize, offer a refund, or provide a replacement product, negative commentary should not be ignored. In no event should a negative comment be deleted. It impacts the company’s credibility and the integrity of its forum. To the extent possible, make sure that the response is customized and not a canned answer. Of course, if you find yourself responding to the same complaint frequently, your problem is not social media. Focus on fixing the underlying problems.
Don’t Kill the Messenger: It seems obvious but resist the temptation to lash out at a negative commenter. A condescending or aggressive response may spur the commenter to continue the negative feedback, possibly escalating their review to other sites. An online response should be handled just as you should in-person, as gently as possible, with the goal of resolving the issue. Also, beware of posting private or protected information about a customer or user in your response. Lawyers and physicians’ offices are especially vulnerable to these disclosures in defending their businesses against complaints.
Don’t Create Fake Content: Some reputation management companies will advise businesses to create positive reviews to counteract any negative commentary that may have been posted. This is generally seen as a poor practice, which is often transparent to your customer.
For most businesses, their reputation is their most important asset. A few years ago, it was easy for businesses to monitor and maintain their public image and reputation through an effective marketing campaign and public relations professionals. The proliferation of social media has changed the timing, content, and nature of what a company must do to stay on top of its reputation. A company image can change overnight because of just a few people. A proactive set of policies and processes can help even the smallest of businesses stay ahead of the curve.
Sonjui L. Kumar is a founding partner of KPPB Law and focuses her practice on serving as general counsel to closely held companies and succession planning for family and closely held businesses.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.
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