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How to decide whether to respond to social media mentions

A few days ago I outlined a five-stage model for social media engagement. Assuming that effective monitoring is in place to flag up mentions, the first stage requires a company or brand to evaluate whether engagement is actually required.

The types of mentions that you would probably want to respond to – because the person is either an existing or potential brand advocate or brand adversary – include:

  • Mentions of your company at presentations or events
  • Compliments directed towards your company, products, services or employees
  • Recommendations and referrals to your products and services
  • Customer service issues or enquiries
  • Sales leads or product/service enquiries
  • Company, product or service issues that you are aware of and have an explanation/response for.

Equally it is important to be clear on what not to respond to, as doing so could either be intrusive, inappropriate or inflammatory. Such instances include:

  • Generic mentions, perhaps alongside competitors, without any kind of commentary
  • Comments that are deliberately antagonistic in nature
  • Mentions that simply link to your own blog posts or announcements, unless they are low volume and an individual response is warranted
  • Discussions between two or more individuals that mention your company but where your responding would be seen as intrusive.

When it comes to deciding whether to respond, there are two golden rules:

  1. Does it appear that the person wants the company to respond?
  2. Do we have anything useful to respond with?

This simple visual model summarises the options:

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 08.51.21

If it’s clear that person is not anticipating a response and you have nothing useful to reply with, then a response is probably unnecessary. That’s not to say you have nothing to learn from it, however. Conversely, if the person is clearly expecting a response and you have something useful to respond with, then you should absolutely respond. However if a response is anticipated but you have nothing of value to add, or if a response is not expected but you feel you can contribute, you need to proceed with caution. In the first scenario, all you can probably do is acknowledge the comment; in the second, you need to tread the fine line between delight and dismay.

How to get social media engagement right


Social media engagement rules or protocols provide guidance to employees regarding how to go about participating in online conversation on behalf of the company. They are usually intended to direct rather than restrict, and are often perceived as more positive in nature.

Radian6 (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) posed some questions of any organisation looking to develop social media engagement guidance:

  • Who are your organisation’s social media heroes today?
  • What kind of engagement is your organisation currently enabling?
  • How will your rules of engagement align with company culture and values?

They recommend that organisations:

  • Listen to what is being said across the social web and get a feel for the sentiment of existing conversation about your company before participating in social media dialogue;
  • Monitor the frontlines using listening tools, fielding frequently asked questions immediately and pushing those conversations needing a more detailed or experienced answer to the correct people with those skill sets in the organisation;
  • Develop a method to filter noise and spam from the relevant conversations using a workflow that meshes well with the organisation’s structure.

But the biggest challenge that most organisations face isn’t how to monitor social media, but what to do with the information they discover. That’s where the right engagement model comes in.

A five-stage model for engagement

If you subscribe to the view that social media engagement is about connecting with people to build relationships that are mutually beneficial and emotionally fulfilling, then you immediately realise that most companies aren’t actually geared up to work in this way. Here is a five-stage model that might help:

1. Evaluate

Is engagement actually required? A response might only be necessary if it comes from an existing or potential brand advocate or adversary, but things like deliberately antagonistic comments, ‘private’ discussions, generic mentions without any commentary, etc, may not warrant a response at all.

2. Acknowledge

With social media there is an expectation of immediacy. By the time the PR, customer service and legal people have all had their say, there is a danger that the discussion will have already moved on and the opportunity to build a connection with an advocate or build a bridge with an adversary will be lost.

3. Prioritise and Classify

If your brand receives a high volume of relevant mentions, it is likely that you will need to prioritise and/or classify them. That way you can ensure the right people deal with the highest priority items first as these are the most likely to escalate quickly before you get chance to evaluate or respond to them.

4. Escalate

The key to keeping major issues grounded and assessed objectively is to have an escalation procedure in place. By setting some simple criteria that must be met, you will be able to determine whether an issue requires escalation and, if so, who needs to be involved in resolving it.

5. Respond

Any response strategy should consist not only of what you want to say, but also who is going to say it and how, as responding online to a compliment is very different to responding to a criticism. Whatever you do, you must resist the marketer’s natural urge to control, target or infiltrate social media – the resulting fallout will provide perfect fodder for others, including competitors and the mainstream media.

Over the next few days, I’ll delve into each of these five stages in more detail.

Why businesses should follow their customers on social networks

shunningI was somewhat disheartened, yet not completely surprised, to see that Twitter has released a feature allowing its users to receive direct messages (DMs) from people they don’t follow. As reported by The Drum, what this really means is that businesses and brands on Twitter can now receive DMs from customers – such as when asking for account numbers or tracking numbers – without having to follow them (it also opens those brands up to a barrage of DM spam which is perhaps just desserts).

It’s a move that comes at the same time that Twitter announces the ability for businesses to schedule tweets in advance so that they “can publish content at any time without having staff on-call to Tweet on evenings, weekends, holidays, or other inconvenient times”.

These are both clear signals that Twitter is prioritising the demands of brands and businesses who simply want to use it as a marketing channel for broadcasting messages, not a way to converse and interact with their customers. It’s further evidence of the slippery slope that takes Twitter further and further from the core principles of ‘social’ media and closer to mass commercialisation.

When it comes to the DM/following issue, I just don’t get it. Why on earth wouldn’t a brand want to follow its customers, to hear what they care about, what they’re passionate about, what they think of other products and services, and even competitors? Is it really that awful for a brand to be seen to be following their customers? Is it really that difficult for the person who asks the customer to send a DM to click the ‘follow’ button as well? And what message is this ‘arms length’ attitude sending to customers about how much the brand values them?

Scheduled tweets I can perhaps understand a little more (everyone deserves time off), but I’m afraid can’t see it being used for anything other than filling our timelines with more broadcast messages – even worse, messages planned by a marketing agency – with little resemblance to, or consideration about, what is happening in the world at the time. We have already seen examples where scheduled tweets have caused unfortunate reputation damage simply because no one can predict when a crisis or tragedy might occur. Many more brands look set to join their ranks with such an easy ‘fire and forget’ approach.

For me, both of these developments are nothing more than treatment for the symptoms of lazy marketing – interruption, irrelevancy and ignorance. Brands would be better advised to follow their customers, to listen to what they’re saying, and to talk to them like human beings.

Image source: stock.xchng