Social Media Strategy: Change the Conversation


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During this past season of AMC’s Mad Men, we often found the hero/anti-hero Don Draper embroiled in a battle for his personal and professional reputation. Rather than defend or deny rumors head-on, he subscribed to the simple idea that “if you don’t like what people are saying about you, change the conversation.”

While I usually hang on Don Draper’s every word anyway, that particular line stuck with me a little more than usual. It made me think about the idea that many companies are afraid to listen to what customers say about them in social media. It’s a little scary to hear what people are saying about you when they think you’re not listening. I attended several Voice of Customer and Customer Experience Management conferences this past fall, and social media was clearly the topic that generated the most concern.

But a fear of social media is like any other fear: once you face it, it’s often not as frightening as you expect. And even if it happens to be as bad as you anticipated, the situation won't improve if you hide from it. You wouldn’t avoid surveying your customers for fear of what they would say, so why avoid listening to what they are saying about you on social media?

One of the biggest challenges in creating your social media strategy is knowing where to begin. Often companies don’t want to listen until they are 100% sure how they will respond. While I usually advocate as much up-front planning as possible, this is one area where an incremental approach often works better. Begin your social media engagement strategy by just listening at first, and give it some time before you start to respond.

You’ll discover some interesting things. For one, there is often a lot more positive praise out there about your company than you might expect. And there’s often a lot more discussion about your company, or at least your industry, than you might expect. And yes, there are some negative posts that you may or may not have to deal with.

Next, when it’s time to respond, assign the appropriate people and come up with some general response rules that will work for them. (Whether the appropriate people to respond are marketing or customer service or support is a topic I’ll discuss in a future blog post.) Here are a few suggestions that I’ve seen others use successfully:

  • Positive social media post: Thank them. It’s so simple and it goes a long way to show that you are engaged, listening, and appreciative.
  • Neutral social media post: if the information they are providing is correct, thank them. If it’s incorrect, thank them and correct them gently. If it’s correct but not necessarily interesting (i.e. very few followers or participants), let it go. You don’t have to respond to everyone.
  • Negative social media post: Here’s where Don Draper comes in – change the conversation. This does not mean argue, ignore, or respond with corporate marketing speak (sorry corporate marketing). What is does mean is that you should mitigate the situation by gently correcting and taking it offline. Let’s look at some wireless company examples:

Twitter Post: “I’m in the middle of Times Square and getting NO coverage! XYZ Wireless SUCKS!”
Response: Publicly respond to the customer on Twitter: “I’m sorry you’re having trouble! Please direct message us @xyzwireless or call 1-800-555-xxxx and we’ll troubleshoot it right away!”

Online Community Post: “I used XYZ for years and finally switched over to competitor ABC wireless – way better rates and coverage!”
Response: “We’re sorry to see you go! We have many flexible rate plans and 99% coverage in North America – please give us a call so we can understand where you were having trouble and perhaps create a plan that works for you. You can reach us at 800-555-xxxx.”

In both of these examples, we didn’t argue, we didn’t defend, we didn’t deny. We simply addressed the issue and changed the conversation to something positive. We demonstrated that we’re listening, and by providing the customer with an option to contact us, we’re able to expose whether the individual posting the comment just wants to complain, or actually work with us to fix it. We’ve gone from a negative social media post to one that shows we care, and puts the onus on the poster to be more proactive than just venting online.

And whether you follow Mad Men or not, you’re probably aware that participating in social media is today’s equivalent of taking out an ad in the New York Times in 1965. I think Don would approve. 


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