The age of Web 2.0 has well and truly arrived. The days of the first few pioneers engaging their users through social media have passed and now every brand, advertiser, celebrity and politician has a social media presence. The goldrush is on and everyone knows they should be in the “social space” – they just have no idea what to do once they’re there.
Everyone knows the benefits – multiple platforms and touch-points mean you can find your audience where they already are. If they’re on YouTube, you can get your own channel there; if they’re on Facebook, why not set up a “Fan” page? This direct access means there are fewer barriers between you and them, you can really engage in an actual conversation. Awesome, right?
But hang on – multiple platforms mean more and more places to manage your message. So often we see social outlets that are all but abandoned, and whatever visitors do come across them can sense the virtual cobwebs of a hastily created and forgotten social media “presence”. What does that say about you/your brand and how is that any different from Web 1.0?
And worse, direct access to your audience means they can talk back to you. How do you control what they do on your page? What if they don’t say nice things? They can rant and bitch and slag you off and everyone can see it and join in. WTF?!? I didn’t sign up for this – it’s out of control! The first problem’s easy to solve – make a commitment to care-taking your social outlets or, even better, don’t just create them for the sake of it: only make the ones you’re going to use.
Managing the conversation is harder. Here are your options:
- Fake it. Why bother with actual consumers when you could just have your agency create fake accounts and drown out the negative with spin? Sony learned the hard way in 2006 with their “All I want for Christmas is a PSP” campaign that did irreparable damage to their brand with the very people they were trying to win over. The public are wise to advertisers and you will be found out. If you’re going to be alternative, you have to be authentic.
- Edit it. Sarah Palin and her horde of winged monkeys (or whoever works for her) are the ultimate example of this. Palin’s Facebook page is conspicuous, considering what a polarising figure she is, for the glowing “we love you Sarah” tone of every comment you can find there. In the wake of the tragic shootings in Arizona this week that have left Palin with a PR disaster on her hands, the editors must be working double-time. A social presence like this is the perfect outlet for people to directly express their outrage and anger but it’s all deleted. Check out Obama London’s report on the methodical removal of any dissenting opinions here. And this raises an even more important point – if you’re obviously moderating content, anything you don’t remove can be assumed to have your approval. Like this comment celebrating the death of a 9 year old.
You stay classy, Sarah.
- Ignore it. Hey, maybe they’ll just go away? While there is some wisdom in not feeding the trolls, pretending it’s not happening just allows any negative commentary to go unchallenged and gives the complainer (another?) valid reason to be angry with you. The longer a grievance goes unrecognised, the larger it becomes.
- Listen. “The fool speaks, the wise man listens”. This is really your only option. Your social media presence is essentially the town square so if someone’s unhappy, deal with it. And deal with it publicly. You can turn a situation around by treating your audience with respect and hearing their issues. Maybe you can fix it and win them back or at least you can show everyone else watching that you care. Starbucks runs MyStarbucksIdea.com to actively invite criticism and then acts on it. Customers have a clear channel for their dissatisfactions and Starbucks take them seriously. Smooth.
As Confucius said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”. Social media is an amazing tool for anyone with a message for a wider audience but it can potentially destroy you. Everything you do on the Internet is public so behave like it. If you respect your audience and are transparent and authentic, they’ll appreciate it and repay you in kind. And if you can’t do that, then maybe it’s time you had a think about whether social media is right for you or not.Follow Shane on Twitter: @shane_casey