This week, MarketWatch published a list of the Top 10 American companies with the worst reputations, and in January a company that I follow on Facebook had an interesting public relations situation on its hands where customers leapt to its page to complain about comments its eccentric CEO had made to a national publication.
Both got me thinking about reputation management and social media’s role in either helping or hurting it. Back in the day when I was a business reporter, if there was a crisis at one of the companies I covered I usually gave its communications team a little bit of time to respond. You told them your deadline and hoped they’d get back to you by the time you had to send it to your editor. The company knew it didn’t really want to read the next day: “So and So Company did not get an opportunity to respond,” or even worse, “So and So Company didn’t return phone calls or e-mails for comments.”
The immediacy of social media, without the time to vet the source that may be hurting your reputation and come up with an effective response lightning quick, can make responding in times of crisis challenging.
We have written a lot on this blog about how great content can educate. But great content can also be the best advocate for your brand – in good and bad times. If you regularly post content on interesting and valuable things your business is accomplishing, when something controversial or not-so-helpful to your brand surfaces, your customers will hopefully see you through a more well-balanced lens if and when they start a conversation about the pesky issue at hand.
But responding nonetheless is crucial. Not responding to social media comments is akin to not responding to any telephone calls, letters or e-mail. And it’s public! According to this article, it’s one of the 6 social media marketing tips to avoid.
So, how do you respond to criticism? Well, how would you respond if you ran a bricks- and-mortar store?
In graduate school, I worked at Nordstrom – often considered the Mercedes-Benz of retail customer service. If a perturbed customer would come to me, I would repeat the customer’s concern so I understood it, provide any clarifying information that may help diffuse or change his or her opinion, and if I did have it wrong, acknowledge it and offer a solution. Granted, the fact that social media is not an oral conversation can make following this advice step-by-step more challenging – but there are ways to respond to social media comments with integrity and brevity. One of the rules is to know at what point to take the conversation offline by getting contact information from commenters who may need more than multiple posts to help find a solution or explain your side in greater detail.
Social media can be a chance to let your customer service skills shine. Also, it’s a way to get your name and values out there on your own terms – not just when something “happens.” Showing you are proactive, have a stance and respect feedback will give customers who might be offering less-than-positive comments proof that you are professional and will help solve their problems if you are given an opportunity to do so.