Leveraging Consumer Feedback – Even When It’s Negative

In the old days, communicators communicated to their audiences. These days communicators, if they’re communicating online, are communicating with their audiences–whether they realize it or not. The old “conversations” were generally cloaked in privacy. When I saw a television ad that generated some kind of response from me, I might share it with the few people I was watching the commercial with, or talk about it later with friends. But, my response was fairly limited.

Enter social media. Today consumers have the ability to share their comments far, far more broadly. That is, in fact, one of the primary differences between social and more traditional media. Consumers today can post their comments directly on advertisers’ sites, on their own web sites or social media pages, or on consumer rating sites designed specifically to generate feedback–good and bad.

Today’s marketers must realize that, if they are communicating online, they’re involved in a conversation–many conversations actually. That can be a very good thing; after all marketers today can spread their messages far more broadly and at far less cost than they could ever do in the past. But, it can sometimes be a bad thing. Tick someone off in web-space and the conversation can quickly go viral.

I encourage the vast majority of my clients to be active online (after all, as I often say, “if you’re not online, you virtually don’t exist”). But, I also offer some general advice to help maximize the good, and avoid the potentially bad, impacts of online conversation.

  • Be proactive. Consider and develop a process, up front, to be prepared to respond to instances when consumers post negative or critical information online.
  • Policies should be developed to indicate who will respond–and how–and should be communicated widely and frequently to all staff.
  • Key messages can be developed and approved in advance to ensure that responses will be prompt and appropriate.
  • Responses to comments in this forum should be consistent with responses to similar comments received through  more traditional communication channels – e.g. via email, by phone, through letters to the editor, in public forums, etc.
  • Make sure that individuals are assigned to monitor online activity on a regular basis. Tools like Radian6 can help to automate this process.
  • Ensure that responses to comments are prompt.
  • With highly charged situations or comments, attempt to move the discussion “offline” through a general response in the public forum that includes an invitation for a one-on-one conversation with the poster, who may also be contacted via other channels if possible (e.g. by private message, email or phone).

Keep in mind that consumers recognize that even good organizations may sometimes make mistakes. Making the mistake is not what matters most. What matters most is how you respond.

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