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Social media - Protecting your brand against negative buzz

“A third of the population has reviewed something online and any one of those reviews can be read by millions of people,” according to Andy Sernovitz of Fast Company. This is the power of social media: user-generated comments and conversation that can build or destroy a brand. Ignoring a conversation in social media and not responding effectively could impact your company's bottom line.

Scenario: Your client tweets about a bad customer service experience, immediately alerting his or her social graph (all their connections within social media) to the issue; or if they blog, they document the bad experience and publish the post. Through the multiplier effect this information is spread on the web often unedited and/or commented by new authors. These headlines appear on sites such as Digg or Technorati and are indexed by Google. The news is fanned by Twitter and citizen journalists, resulting in a full-blown reputation crisis within a few hours — are you prepared?

The above example is extreme, but if the cost is simply to monitor the conversation with a few search engines, social networks, forums, blogs and respond to negative buzz when/where appropriate then it would make sense to do so. The cost benefits of monitoring social media far outweigh the damage to your brand if you choose not to.

Start by listening to social media
You need to track down the entire buzz around your brand within social media to get an idea of what the negativity landscape looks like. Free tools such as whostalkin.com or socialmention.com can help you to identify the conversations around your brand. Simply list relevant keywords to search — for example brand, product, model number or CEO name. The tools will then return results and categorise them by channels i.e. blogs, forums, networks, news and video. If your company is global with a huge web presence, it is best to use a social media agency to produce an audit — manually searching the voicescape is very labour intensive. Do not forget that Google alerts are a great way of monitoring the conversation based on brand mentions.

Join the conversation
If you discover negative or factually incorrect buzz, it is important to react quickly so the information is not spread further via blogs or micro-blogging sites such as Twitter.

Simply by responding to the post/comment or contacting the detractor directly shows that your brand is open to dialogue and portrays that your business is listening and values the customer. Do not be defensive as it will encourage further negativity — instead explain your position and invite feedback.

Transparent communications
Social media within any marketing context is all about being open and honest. If something goes wrong — such as your server crashes, or the development and delivery of a product is delayed — then tell your customers. Let your customers know how you are rectifying a situation. Failure to communicate will open your brand up to the mercy of social media.

Social media strategy
If you have a company blog, you can respond with a formal blog post making sure that its title features keywords that match the negative posts or content. This will help to add positive search engine results, pushing down negative posts indexed by search engines.

Also, counteract anonymous and negative comments by highlighting testimonials from some of your best customers. In support of the blog post you can use your Twitter account to raise awareness of your response. Depending on the scale of the negative reaction you can respond via video or audio in the form of webcasts and podcasts. If you have an online community, you can host the conversation on your own website, confining the negativity to one area and allowing you to respond immediately.

Make it a habit
Remember marketing 101: a recipient of good customer service will tell five others on average. Yet a recipient of bad service will tell ten people and many more — maybe even hundreds if they are a blogger or active on social networks. It may not prevent a crisis from occurring, but the earlier you learn of dissatisfaction the faster you can react.

Key to managing and maintaining your reputation within social media is to be part of the conversation and for your brand to have a voice that is respected. This comes only through investing time in engaging with customers through social media, building relationships and in turn developing trust.


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