It’s OK to confront the computer critics
June 11, 2010
Social media has given every person with a computer or even a telephone the power of mass communication.
Now every American can be a food, music and culture critic among their realm of friends and beyond.
In addition to traditional blogs and social group updates, every consumer has the power to share their experiences at a store, restaurant or hotel on major websites like Orbitz, TripAdvisor, UrbanSpoon or CitySearch.
What if people take advantage of these 21st Century mouthpieces to badmouth your business?
Four social media gurus offered the following suggestions for controlling your brand image in blogs and other forms of social media.
Paul Kirwin helps companies manage their reputation in social media for a living with his company ChannelSignal.
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He said the secret to managing negative posts effectively is to treat them like you would any other "word of mouth" problem in the olden days: confront it.
"It doesn’t matter how big you are, if people are using social media to pound or praise you engage them," he said. "If someone were really mad at you, you’d try to talk to them."
If there’s a way to contact the person directly, ask to open a line of communication, he said.
"It’s all about engaging in a conversation and being a part of it, not controlling it Express opinions honestly," he said.
First express sympathy; next invite them to have a dialogue. If they accept, offer to correct the problem.
If a damaging post is done anonymously, contact the publisher of the website and ask if you may email the person. If that isn’t permitted, many companies will allow you to post a response to the criticism, he said.
Libby Dowd, director of public relations at The Canyons Resort, said she and other colleagues in the tourism industry always post replies to comments both good and bad.
"If you’re writing a response, disclose who you are and speak honestly but not confrontationally," she said.
Rachel Herrscher, CEO of Utah-based social media company TodaysMama.com and co-founder of the EVO Conference to be held at The Canyons June 24-26, said she respects companies that reply.
It’s not uncommon to get a negative review, but when she sees that a company tried to contact the person and offer to right the wrong, it sends a message to her that they care about customer service.
A wrong strategy would be to post a counter-review praising the business to "balance" the negative one, Kirwin said. Most websites find ways to punish users who do such "ghostwriting," he said.
Krista Parry, director of communications at Park City Mountain Resort agreed "faking" posts is unwise.
"Two key things in social media are authenticity and transparency," she explained. "Don’t post anonymously
It’s never good to post dishonestly."
It is perfectly OK and a common practice for businesses to encourage loyal fans to post positive reviews.
If someone tells the manager they really enjoyed their meal, the manager should be quick to suggest a website the customer could use to share their experience, Kirwin said.
Dowd said she tries to keep track of who her best clients are so she can occasionally call on them to use social media to tell others about the business.
If necessary, a negative comment can be buried by legitimate positive ones.
Parry said similar thinking prompted the creation of the SnowMamas.com blog where real women talk about their experiences in Park City. It gives her resort a chance to be proactive in helping families plan vacations to have better experiences, she explained.
If businesses can be savvy about how people are using social media, then they can meet more of their needs and generate a positive relationship with them online.
In Parry’s experience, people use social media to research destinations before arriving, post pictures and comments while here, then share memories and reminisce in the months or years following. Helping them do that that creates positive engagement.
But negative engagement should be seen as an opportunity to right a wrong, Herrscher said. In the past, somebody might have had a bad experience and then told several people but the business never knew it. Now they can search the web and find those people.
Twitter and some other services provide search tools. All four experts suggested the simple but effective Google Alerts. Herrscher said it has better perks than some other methods and is the most user-friendly.
Checking Twitter, Facebook or Google for references to your business should be part of one’s daily routine. That may sound like a bother, but should only take five or ten minutes, Herrscher said. If it’s just a part of checking the morning’s email, it can be easy to remember.
To learn more about how to use social media to your advantage, Herrscher is inviting people to sign up for the EVO Conference at The Canyons happening June 24-26 which will feature workshops for small businesses. For more information visit evoconference.com/agenda.
Tips for controlling your company’s image in social media:
Sign up for Google Alerts on your company’s name.
Respond to every comment on social media, good or bad.
If a comment is negative, do everything within your power to contact the person and try to make it right.
If a critical post was made anonymously, contact the host and ask if you can respond.
Always respond positively, suggesting you care about customer service and want to fix the problem.
Never blame or attack the critic.
Prompt fans of your business to post positive comments to counter or drown out negative posts.
Never "ghostwrite" positive posts for yourself.
Treat social media like "word of mouth" advertising.
Promote a dialogue with your clients and customers.