An executive of an organization looked me dead in the eye recently and said, “I am not comfortable with what people are saying about my product on the Internet. How do I stop them?”
The readers in tune with the world of social media probably just got a chuckle, but it’s no laughing matter. It isn’t a laughing matter because the vast majority of marketing and communications decision-makers would say the same thing and be dead serious. For those people, here’s your answer: You can’t.
Conversations about, or those which simply include, your brand take place regularly. A decade or more ago, they took place around the water cooler. “Did you see that Bud Lite frog commercial?” “That McRib thing is just awful. Don’t even try it.” “Can you believe this Saturn car thing? No haggling for a price? I can’t wait to see that.” “Please, someone tell Cindy Crawford she’s tone deaf.”
Today, those same conversations are taking place online. The only difference is the four people gathered around the water cooler are now hundreds, thousands or even millions of people gathered around social networking communities, message boards, forums and blogs. They are talking whether you want them to or not. (Freedom of speech is a bitch, huh?) So you can’t stop them.
But here’s what you can do: Participate.
I responded to the nervous executive by saying this:
“You can’t stop people from talking about your product or brand. What you can do is make sure you are also participating in the conversation. When people talk poorly about you, reach out to them and ask why. Then ask if there’s anything you can do to make up for their dissatisfaction. You can also inject positive conversation about your product and brand, so long as you do it appropriately and meaningfully and don’t just snap into ‘sales mode’ and force marketing messages at them. By offsetting any negative with healthy doses of positive, but also reaching out to correct the negative, you’ll soon think differently about what people are saying about you.”
So this particular executive’s company has decided a blog is right for them. But she is still very nervous about participating in the conversation and especially wary of allowing the conversations to take place on her own website. For the nervous executive facing a decision to blog, here are some reasons for calm:
1. Moderating Comments Is Acceptable
So long as you are weeding out the profane, offensive and deliberate flame entries and not filtering out everything that might be negative, the community understands. No one wants to browse through the comments and see obscenity and unreasonable attacks on anyone or any brand. It’s okay to set up checks and balances. However, you almost have to commit yourself at the onset to allow negative comments through. Not doing so will backfire quickly. Encouraging them so that you can directly address problems with individual customers will set you apart just as fast, but in a very good way.
2. Comments Aren’t Above The Fold
In order for your blog’s readers to see the negative comments you’re so nervous about, they have to click through to the post and then scroll down to the list of comments. The simple math of a short attention span society and the time and effort it takes to read an entire post, then all the comments, proves the number of eyeballs that see these entries is considerably less than those who visit your site or even read the post itself. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can ignore the conversations occurring in your comments. So long as you address negative ones by participating there, too, you’ll minimize the effect of the naysayers and likely turn them to brand fans with your responsiveness.
3. Blogs Are Not Forums
Unless you create a blog with this specific capability in mind, visitors cannot author posts. They can only offer reaction to ones written by the authors you choose. A forum, where users can start discussion topics, is an entirely different animal. Blogs allow your audience to be primarily reactive to you, not proactive against you. Forums (also called message boards) require a higher degree of monitoring, moderation and, yes, bravery from your brand. But please don’t confuse a blog for a forum.
4. You Are Letting Go Of Control, But You Aren’t
The bottom line is the website belongs to you. If you feel a commenter is a particular nuisance or detriment to the community you are trying to build online, you don’t have to allow their comments through. However, there are steps to take to use the fact you’ve let go of control to your advantage. Politely and privately ask the individual to clean up their act or lose their commenting privileges. If that doesn’t work, extend that polite and professional instruction publicly so your community sees you are trying to address the problem. If the problem persists, stop allowing their comments. If the community knows what you’re up to, they’ll protest if you’re being unreasonable. If they don’t, and chances are they’ll encourage you, you’ve technically earned their endorsement to take action. It’s simple consensus building. Let the community have (or at least think they have) control over community decisions.
No amount of discussion or research is going to make that executive feel better about her organization blogging. What will is actually doing it. Her head and heart are in the right place. The organization is one that should benefit from blogging as a communications strategy. The opportunity is right. But she’s fearful of facing the negative.
Someone a lot smarter than me once said, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.” But it always seems that way in hindsight.Â
Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:
- Five Steps To Managing Reputation Management
- Should I Launch A Business Blog
- Are Your Biggest Fans Able To Defend You?
- Contagious Negativity And The Dangers Of Social Media
- Boo Hiss (Tech PR War Stories Podcast)