Whether or not your business opens a web portal to social media, your communications obligations have expanded. Even if you are not an active participant, your Marketing department should exercise an active strategy to know what others are doing or saying, especially if they are saying it about you.
Because social media has changed the way we communicate, it means that there is a vital “listening” component. Don’t ignore it. A colleague recently shared an article from the November 2010 Costco Connection business magazine that cites American Express Open Forum VP Scott Roen on aspects of strategic use of social media. He notes that social media allows us to track our competitors. (Just as they may be tracking you). One such site, TweetBeep.com, offers a “freemium” service where you can be kept aware of when your competitors—or you—are being mentioned. As cited in the New York Times, “It does what the I.T. guys call alerts. Once programmed, it will search Twitter once an hour and shoot you an e-mail if it finds, say, the name of your company or the latest batch of #swineflu tweets. TweetBeep saves you from spending your day hovering over the Advanced Search page.” Roen also references Google alerts to keep current on your business, a competitor, or industry.
There are many such sites that track social media, including blog posts, discussion boards, online news sources, re-tweets, forums, and images. What to use? The answer is to develop a strategy—outsource the monitoring solution if it is time/cost-effective, and be prepared for when you find yourself the subject in a social media conversation that you did not initiate.
These buzz-monitoring sites have emerged to fill a need—to track word-of-mouth. And what if you discover there is news on your company and it’s negative?
Conventional public relations wisdom is to respond positively to negative feedback. You have the opportunity to create a credible conversation that can demonstrate two important points:
- You listen to your customers
- You are responsive (show action)
Embrace your criticism and provide a response that demonstrates how you can make it right again—with an immediate solution. Your internal communications approach should have checks and balances, so that you’re not confusing immediate response with a poorly thought out knee-jerk reaction. For example, include the offending department in your decision making. In the short run you are leading by example—and in the long-run you are empowering your department managers to maintain influence with their staff. Providing immediate recognition to criticism is a legitimate first step—and buy you a little (not a lot) time to research a more satisfactory reply.
Your response to negative criticism is part of your corporate culture. It is ‘the way we do things around here’. It must be reflected in your written, verbal, and online communications strategy. All employees should be aware of it, and put it into practice, wherever and whenever encountered.
Word of mouth is now the speed of light—keep it on your side.
Future posts will discuss how organizations can respond to negative criticism in greater depth.