Month: May 2013

Not So Social: When the Customer is Wrong

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Funny thing about social media. Everyone has a voice. Can be a right voice. A left voice. A loud voice. A quiet voice. Can be part of the vocal minority or part of the crowd.

No matter your views, social media provides you and me with an open invitation to say what we feel, sometimes void of little things like facts, perspective or sound thinking.

Heck, companies not only have a presence socially, many openly ask for customers, clients, vendors, partners, etc., to “tell it like it is” – – well, at least tell it like they think it is.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as we all understand the rules of engagement.

Four or five years ago, I started my current company’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Out of necessity, really. I had begun responding to inaccurate posts and blogs about my company and/or industry and used Twitter to search for those blogs in question (the thinking was, bloggers would use Twitter as a way to distribute their blogs). During this process, I came to the “brilliant” realization (I really do need to invent the sarcasm button on the keypad) that my company should be proactively getting our messages out to our real audience. Hence, our social pages were born.

Along with the proactive posts, came responding to client concerns. A beautiful thing that can prove beneficial to both the company and the client or customer.

You see, one of two things should happen. Either it is determined that the company did something wrong and it becomes a chance to make it right for the client/customer and a learning/teaching opportunity for the company. Or, you learn that the client/customer is not being 100 percent accurate/honest/fair with the claim and it really isn’t your fault.

No matter the instance, typical operating procedure has become to quickly acknowledge the customer/client complaint and to – just as quickly – take the conversation off of the social page and onto the corporate email, phone call, etc. That is, until a positive resolution is met and either the company or customer goes back online with the happy ending.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always happening. More and more I am seeing companies that are short on follow through and customers and clients who are long on reasonable. There are plenty examples of companies overpromising and under delivering to their customers and examples of “rogue” customers posting unfounded claims, making different social sites their playground for getting back at a company they believe wronged them.

So, what is a PR person to do? Here are a couple of thoughts:

Get the buy-in of the C-Suite by showing the power of social media. Capture all of the comments real-time and graph the trends. Are their certain areas that are consistently questioned? Are comments tied to a specific promotion? A specific department? Are you seeing similar complaints from other touchpoints?

Work with the right departments within the organization to get resolution. Social media cannot be a catalog of complaints where we just say, “sorry, we’ll try better.” We must be able to have a team in place that will be able to get answers. Why’d this happen? What are we going to do to make it better? What are we going to do to assure it doesn’t happen again?

Act as an advocate for the consumer but have your company’s back. Do what you can for the consumer, but make sure he/she is acting professionally and or civilized. Profanity, lewd behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. Have that as part of your company description on your home page.

I’m not someone who believes that every social interaction should be kept for prosperity. If/when someone is anti-social, protect your brand and don’t give them a platform.  Being the loudest doesn’t make you right, and if someone becomes that out of control, cut bait.

The Golden Rule truly applies here. If your company has done something wrong, fess up to it, learn from it and move on. If a customer/client is being rude, profane and unreasonable, put a stop to it. It is more than okay to block them from your page if they are so over the top.

What examples do you have of a company doing right socially? Have you seen a customer go awry? Would you block someone? Let me know, please.

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The New Company Spokespeople are on Social Media Sites and Instant Chats; Should Execs Be Afraid?

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When I was in college, I remember taking a Public Relations Case Studies Class. In it, we talked about the different crises of the day. “What would you do about the Tylenol tampering?” My response was usually, “I wouldn’t ask a kid right out of college.” Not the most profound of answers, I know, but the truth.

Fast-forward a few years and I’m working at a boutique agency, defending myself to my seasoned boss for not getting two placements a day (quick math, 10 a week). Not ”interests” or “sounds promising” – – actual “that will be running on Tuesday” placements. My response – to myself, my boss scared the heck out of me – was usually, “excuse me unreasonable person, you need a much more experienced person to consistently get 10 placements a week.” And for the record, I was not lacking confidence at all, 10 placements for what I was pitching wasn’t reasonable.

Compelling message, meet appropriate audience. Looking back, whether dealing with a crisis or a proactive pitch, you need to have the experience and training to be adept in creating/developing/sculpting that compelling message for that appropriate audience. I think we can all agree that makes sense. Yes?

So, why is it we are seeing more and more unskilled/untrained individuals manning (or womaning) company social media sites, Instant Chats, etc.?

This past week we saw McDonald’s get some flak for tweeting about the happenings in Cleveland. Closer to my home, my wife was trying to buy a present online with a major retailer only to learn that a receipt with the prices would be included with the gift. My wife Instant Chatted with the retailer, and received a response from the retailer tad amount to, “dude, that sucks for you.”

Understanding economics may prohibit having seasoned PR people available 24-7 to either act as a company spokesperson or respond to a “crisis” situation, it is critical to embrace the reality that those individuals who are on the Instant Chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are representing your company. Would you let an untrained person talk to a reporter at The Wall Street Journal? In many ways, today’s consumers are all reporters.

Make no mistake, this is by no means an indictment on the twenty-somethinger. Not at all. All I’m saying is, whoever is going to be working the new technology should understand that they are representing the company, and in doing so should consider the following:

  • Know your brand – You are not responding, your company is – – doesn’t matter if you are having a bad day, want to say something that is clever, or think the person you are talking to is unreasonable. I wrestled in high school and when we won the state cup and were presented      with jackets, I remember my coach telling us, “When you wear the jacket, you are representing Baldwin wrestling. Act accordingly.”
  • Empathize with your real audience – Why are they reaching out to you? Odds are, not to just say, hi. There probably is an issue and it was important enough for them to reach out.
  • Make sure you know what you can promise and deliver on it – You may start off as the consumer’s advocate, working with other departments within the company. Keep in touch with your customer (yes, now they are your customer) and, if possible, take the conversation off the public page until the resolution. Your customer may not agree with the outcome, but the hope is he/she (and everyone else reading the string) will understand.

A couple of years ago, I developed my current company’s Facebook and Twitter pages and responded to more than my fair share of inquiries.  Now, I have a very skilled (and I believe twenty-somethinger) monitoring and responding. She keeps me in the loop with her interactions and will ask for counsel when needed – – funny thing is, after all these years, I still think back at what my high school wrestling coach said. Still applies today.

Monkeying Around With Words

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Words are powerful. They can unite. Motivate. They can hurt. Misrepresent.

Love. Hate. All. None.

In our field, words are the foundation of strategic plans; the essence of key messages and the tools used to convince, sell and explain.

Why then are so many, so quick to treat words as gospel? And why are so many, so quick to spread the words without fully embracing or understanding the ramifications of the words?

Ready, fire, aim.

Recent current events have only solidified trends that have been occurring for years. And social media has kicked it up a notch. How many times have we seen something reported and retweeted only to find out minutes or hours later that it was inaccurate?

But what should we expect? We stretch the truth every day for a myriad of reasons. How often have you been in a meeting where you hear someone say something like, “Nobody understands the message” or “Everyone thinks that is a bad idea.” Really?

Come to find out that the “nobody” was really three emails and “everyone” was a group of people at a happy hour.  In other words, not so much nobody and everyone.

Jon Stewart has said, “If everything is amplified, we hear nothing.”  Amplification occurs when words are used carelessly, without checking the accuracy. We’ve become numb, substituting truth and fairness with being first and whenever possible our take on a particular situation.

The great philosophers Peter, Micky, Davy and Mike once sang, “I remember when the answers seemed so clear; we had never lived with doubt or tasted fear. It was easy then to tell truth from lies; selling out from compromise; who to love and who to hate, the foolish from the wise.”

While I’m certainly not naive to think the world was much clearer years ago, I do think much of society’s quench for 15 minutes of fame has taken the idea of “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” to a much broader interpretation. And Facebook, Twitter and social media in general has given us the platform to shine the spotlight large and bright.

I don’t know what the answer is; I do know part of my job is developing compelling messages for appropriate audiences. It can sometimes take me quite some time in determining the right words for the right people. Maybe we’d be better off if we all took a moment to breath before both sending/saying something and considering the source. Maybe not, but at the very least I wrote a blog that included Jon Stewart and the Monkees.