With the advent of social media, PR professionals are always asked their opinion whether a client should embrace a new digital strategy that integrates with the traditional means of communication. And if so, why and how? I think, overwhelmingly, we would recommend that clients adopt some level of social interaction; however, not before we consider the appropriate vehicles and the strategy for each.
Twitter, despite the perception of its ubiquitous reach is not for everyone, and, frankly, the majority of business people still do not have an active account nor are they inclined to be followers. Plus, the 140 characters of content – i.e. what people say for or against you – is not something you can control. YouTube and a forward-facing company blog are safer social plays, but still open a company up for public scrutiny and comments from readers or viewers. And, trust me, some of the public commentary “ain’t pretty.”
Stop and pause
I am a contributor to a handful of lifestyle blogs, mostly writing about issues that impact the modern man or cooking. When I began guest blogging for these sites, I realized that my opinion was not going to be shared by all readers and prepared myself for occasional criticism. What I wasn’t prepared for however was the vitriol and personal attacks that accompanied these comments.
When I read these occasional missives, in knee-jerk fashion I lashed out at the lashers. What a mistake. Fighting fire with fire and going toe-to-toe with some faceless person is never a good strategy on which to embark and an upper hand is never gained. This is a lesson that I learned quickly during my blogging experience and one that I pass along to clients who want to dip their toes into social media with a company blog.
Unfortunately, the milieu of social media and blogging is like the wild, wild west, affording everyone the opportunity to play a bit fast and loose with what they write. It has become the medium of the retort where commentators can attack businesses, often basing their diatribes on information that can find itself in that gray area of half-truths, innuendos and conjecture. The comments are often opinion-based and leave a company seething and bent on rectifying the situation. My advice? Count to 10 before putting your fingers to the keyboard. As I said before, there is little you can accomplish that will benefit your organization by getting involved in a heated war of words with people taking issue with some aspect of your company.
Once a cooler head prevails, address the comments and try to make the writers understand the error of their ways, particularly if they are misinterpreting what your company originally wrote. Maybe it’s a product concern or fallout from a recent business policy decision, no matter the issue, you need to respond to the comments. The last thing you want others to be left with is your non-response and the accusatory nature of these right or wrong comments.
Stay calm when responding
And, of course, how you respond is just as important as what you write back to an individual. In my own blogging experience, my biggest mistake was writing in anger and not “killing with kindness.” Trust me, you come across in a much more negative fashion by copping an attitude, which gives you two problems to contend with: first, the accusation and, second, appearing like an insensitive corporate bully. So, please remain calm and respond the same way you might when writing a thank-you note to your mother-in-law.
The first sentence a blog commentator should read in your reply is how grateful you are for them taking the time to write and offer feedback. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that most companies value customer input in adding to the organizational business trajectory and this is no different. So, thank the writer and then respond to their comments. This is your turn to set the record straight, maybe enlighten the individual, and invite them to engage in further interaction.
Mission accomplished? Maybe not, but I would suspect that at the very least some of the vitriol was quelled and the company maintained a public perception of being willing and open to discussing sensitive issues within this uncharted social realm. What a company communicates probably has not changed over the years, although the vehicles for that communication have. Twitter, YouTube, and company blogs are the new vehicles and we as PR professionals have to understand how to take tried-and-true messaging, and conform those to the parameters of the new media.