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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

How Do I? Prepare For Social Feedback

How Do I?
For a while now, I've been thinking about social feedback -- i.e., customer feedback in a social world [for more background, see Social Media Club North Jersey: Customer Feedback In a Social World]. Yes, it can be scary and possibly even unpleasant. But feedback is gold. It indicates that someone is paying attention and cares enough about you to take precious time and communicate with you. That effort, though, comes with expectations about your response. How best to prepare yourself, then?

How Do I Prepare For Social Feedback?

The best starting point, in my mind, is to strip away all of the distracting technology angles.  Focus simply on your customers or readers and determine what it is that you want to accomplish with them? Do you intend to sell them something? Educate them? Build a relationship? Exchange ideas?

Next, think about all of the channels you have available for communicating with your audience: telephone, email, website, social channels, in-person: what kinds of conversations are already taking place [sales, problem resolution, education, relationship-building, ...]? Are you consistent in your customer messages across those channels and those conversations?  Consistency is critical because the channels themselves are irrelevant to your audience.  Regardless of how, customers expect to reach you, they expect you to acknowledge and that you will interact consistently.

This is where guidelines are invaluable [see How Do I Start With Social Media Guidelines?], internally to reach consensus across functions, roles, locations, etc. on how to respond, the frequency of response, and the consistency of response, as well as externally so your audience knows what to expect from you.

But, what about worst case scenarios? Have you thought through them? What if one were to happen? How would your respond?

PR News in Take a Public Relations Crisis by the Horns from the 1/11/10 newsletter says that "avoidance is no longer an option" and recommends the following steps which are as relevant offline as they are online:

1. "Own it": be proactive with your news.
2. "Act quickly, but tread carefully"
3. Be simple, consistent and honest in the message you communicate.
4. If you have news to communicate, better to get it out [reinforces step #1: own it].
5. Don't avoid those who are critical of you. "Not allowing access only allows for additional animosity and potential false reporting."

The Zen Way to Deal with Negative Commentary Online from Liz Strauss' Successful and Outstanding Blog offers valuable advice for responding to online negative comments: do so "publicly, honestly and as quickly as possible. Don't ever think about creating an alias... you will get caught and it will cause more damage to your reputation."

The author, Shama Kabani, suggests checking the facts and offering to resolve issues at a high level.  "Becoming an active part of the conversation that is already taking place among your customers, employees, prospects, and competitors is the best way to prevent negative comments from taking over your online reputation."

Note her comments about establishing a policy; they echo Penalty Cards in Social Media Communities' recommendation to have "a policy that is viewable by the public."  The policy requires that you have considered various outcomes and making it public means that you are transparent about how you do business - and increasingly critical business expectation.

Speaking of expectations, Denise Zimmerman makes several valuable points in When to Respond to Negative Buzz. First, about reviews.  They are valuable for your business and provide you with invaluable feedback.  Second, about expectations.  She says "...but then you've got Twitter and Facebook.  They have grown exponentially in scope and in speed.  The additional element is that there is an expectation from the customer that you're going to respond..."

I touch on expectations in Social Media Club North Jersey: Customer Feedback in a Social World; here are a few more I received in response to that post on June 2nd:

Ksenia Coffman KseniaCoffman
   @CBWhittemore RE: response via SM -> Within 1 biz day if it's an SM company (biz related to SM); 2 days to never if others :-)

Alyssa G agardina
  @CBWhittemore Great post! Really surprised at some of the responses - a few hours? The person on SM might not have your answer that fast.  

Gary Gertz ggert
@CBWhittemore interesting to me that I recently started complaining LOUDLY about @USAirways and have rcvd 0 response in 144 hours  

[and none as of 6/8/10. Not impressive.]
Customers expect a response. If they don't get it, they have reason to resort to more public forums to force a response.  The lesson: be listening, be paying attention and be ready to respond consistently. The social feedback you receive is rich and conducive to insightful conversation, but you must be prepared and willing to welcome it.

Given that many of us are entering into unchartered territory when we engage socially, it's important to remember that, despite being part of sometimes large corporate entities, when we engage socially we do so as individuals wanting to interact with other individuals.  Mistakes happen. Yet, if we remember that we're 'all in this together', we have the opportunity to learn from mistakes and strengthen relationships. Here's a great example: Boeing as described in The Right Way to Make Your Social-Media Mea Culpa which reminds us that:

1. One is many: A conversation with one unhappy [or happy] customer can easily become a conversation with many.
2. Engage immediately.
3. Be honest and take responsibility.
4. Lose the corporate-speak.
5. Put a face on it.
6. Let the fans talk.
7. Learn from it.

Finally, read Seven Things Your Organization Must Do Because of Social Media. The examples - Greenpeace vs. Nestle and Dave Carroll vs. Airlines - are classics.  The lessons even moreso:

1. You must be proactive.
2. You must improve customer support.
3. You must listen.
4. You must participate.
5. You must respond.
6. You must move faster.
7. You must realize every employee is a marketer.

Social feedback enables interaction with people.  Are you prepared? What would you add?

Check out other posts in the How Do I? series.

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Reminder: Please, no self-promotional or SPAM comments. Don't bother if you're simply trying to build inauthentic link juice. Finally, don't be anonymous: it's too hard to have a conversation. Thanks, CB

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