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How brands should respond on social media

Facebook-reply-buttonThe final stage of the five-step social media engagement model I outlined is response. By following the previous four steps (evaluate, acknowledge, prioritise and classify, and escalate), a brand will inevitably be faced by the question: so how exactly should we respond?

First, any response should include consideration not only of what you want to say, but also who is going to say it and how; responding to a compliment is very different to responding to a criticism. Whatever you do, you must resist the natural marketer’s urge to control, target or infiltrate social media – the resulting fallout will provide perfect fodder for critics, competitors and commentators (especially those in the ‘traditional’ media). However, when done properly, companies are just as entitled as any other individual or organisation to participate in online conversation with their customers, and in most cases it will be warmly welcomed. Contrary to popular media opinion, these people are not just a bunch of activists waiting to attack – although they will if companies appear irresponsible or disrespectful by simply treating ‘their’ space as yet another advertising medium.

The ground rules for participation in social media are undefined and open to constant interpretation. One person’s contact and dialogue is another’s spam and manipulation. But responding with information about your product or position can deliver a number of benefits:

  • it gets your side of a story heard, straight from the source;
  • it can generate word of mouth, assuming what you have to say is worth talking about;
  • it provides instant feedback on what you have to say;
  • it allows you to communicate in your own voice, on a less formal basis.

Responding to negative mentions

Let’s first look at some of the most common negative situations and the kind of response you might consider.

Malicious attacks are directly intended to inflict some kind of reputational damage on an organization or individual. Yet they provide an opportunity to encourage others to support your position. A direct response is rarely recommended, but peer pressure can quickly redress the balance. Let’s be clear: this isn’t the same as rigging votes or posting anonymous messages, but about building a network of friends for a brand that will defend it in times of adversity, like a good friend who defends you in public.

There is a lot of what can only be classed as mischievousness that takes place in social media. People want to ruffle an organisation’s feathers because in their eyes they’ve done something wrong and want them to respond. If this happens, remember that you don’t have to respond directly, but you might want to before someone else does. Each case will vary, but a little bit of humility will go a long way towards showing an openness that could be quite unexpected.

However, the vast majority of negative mentions will probably just be caused by misinformation or misinterpretation, so make sure your communication is clear and honest. There are also opportunities to facilitate conversations and add value to existing communities, but that requires organizations to evolve from wanting to control the conversation to becoming the facilitator of conversation. The objective is to give people more reasons to talk about your company.

Responding to positive mentions

Positive mentions are generally easier to deal with – although take care not to come across as conceited or arrogant. In most cases, it will simply be a case of acknowledging the compliment and thanking those making it. If it’s something really wonderful, then you could also consider using it in some way as part of your own social media marketing efforts, for instance by linking, tweeting or blogging about it in a way that makes the acknowledgement public. Personally, I find companies that do this for every compliment quite tiresome – it makes me think they are vain, desperate or have nothing else of value to contribute (or all three) so think carefully whether you risk turning a compliment into a criticism, purely as a result of how you choose to respond to it.