Originally asked on Quora, with my reply below:
Has anyone been with a company that has had a social network used against them for negative PR purposes?
We recently had to ask a small non-profit to leave a building. They were here on a short term basis which they were aware of, yet they are using a social network campaign to make it sound like we are booting them to the curb via eviction. Any way to respond and not just open ourselves to even more criticism?
I’ve seen similar situations with some fairly large clients – the scale might be different but fundamentally the lessons and approach are pretty similar.
Broadly speaking it’s better to respond in a positive and proactive manner (*not* defensively or aggressively) than to just it back and take it. Silence allows those with the grudge to completely define and drive the story, something that if unanswered can do significant long-term harm to your organization’s brand and reputation. The issue is how you can respond, and a lot of that depends on the tools and channels you have at your disposal:
Do you have any sort of established presence across social networks? A company blog, a Twitter handle, Facebook page, etc.? It’s an old bit of advice, that if you don’t have a presence may be moot, but one of the best defenses against a negative critic campaign is to have been actively establishing a presence, a voice, and credibility. It gives you the platform to respond. It is extremely hard to spin something up only when the crisis hits – ask BP PR. You can, and should if possible, engage them and respond positively where the criticism is taking place – in the forum they posted, in their blog’s comments, on their Facebook post thread (just remember you are their guest in that situation…).
Whether you have a presence or not, by all means respond but do so in a positive, proactive manner. Take the high road. The path to ruin in social is to respond defensively, with threats or aggression, etc. In almost every case, unless the facts are obviously and dramatically on your side, the sentiment lies with the little guy (the non-profit), and a poor response from you could make the issue snowball into something very, very negative. Without knowing much about your specific situation, some quick thoughts:
- Acknowledge their concern positively, but lay out the facts to the extent that you can reasonably disclose.
- Invite them in to a face to face discussion of their concerns, and how or why their was a disconnect in terms of understanding. Make this invite publicly and repeatedly if not acknowledged, on your own blog/twitter/etc and also where they are raising a stink (comments on their FB thread…) so the community knows you are reaching out.
- If possible, assuming you are standing your ground, see if you can offer them some help or connections with other properties in the area. Show you are willing to go above and beyond to help them succeed in finding a new home.
- Overall – be as publicly and ridiculously reasonable as possible, even while holding firm in your position. Assuming you are confident the facts are on your side, your reasonable replies, if not met with a similarly reasonable response, will paint a stark contrast to their criticism and complaints.
“We want our own Facebook page!”
This is a post for the beleaguered corporate marketer, who by virtue of talent, vision, policy, or just (possibly bad) luck, sits as the gatekeeper in the organization who gets to decide which brands, sub-brands, teams, or products get to have an official presence in social media.
First off, every organization should have this role, whether it’s vested in one person or, more typically, a virtual team or committee. The alternative is often chaos, where a brand’s social media presence ends up fragmented across tens or dozens of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, many of them ignored or abandoned.
That’s not hyperbole – I’ve seen it in many clients, and it happens far more often than you might think and even among companies viewed as fairly mature and competent when it comes to social. Brands get that way either by lacking a gatekeeper role, or the when gatekeeper doesn’t ask the right questions of those who want their very own shiny Facebook page.
The following six questions are a starting point to help corporate marketers filter, and are based on a set of recommendations I’ve discussed with numerous clients. The “they” refers to the team asking for their own social channels, distinct from the existing official higher-level corporate accounts:
1. Is their brand sufficiently distinct from the overall corporate brand identity?
Mountain Dew is part of Pepsi, but the brand is completely distinct. Diet Pepsi is much more of an edge case. Is the brand in question just a subset of the primary corporate brand, or something – in the customer’s eyes – completely different?
2. Do they have a unique target audience that differs markedly from the parent brand?
If the target audience/demographic is largely the same as the parent brand, then the case for creating a new set of social accounts becomes less strong. There are likely other ways to get that brand involved in social – a Facebook tab, or some percentage mix of the recurring content updates on the primary accounts, for example.
3. Do they have a unique and compelling fan value proposition?
In short, can they answer in a single, clear sentence “Why should I follow XYZ service on Facebook? What’s in it for me?” If not, and the answer is either vague or simply “because people expect to see us on Facebook” then no, they shouldn’t get their own official social accounts.
4. Do they have staff or agency resources to build and maintain the channel over the long-term?
Someone has to build the tabs, the logos, the backgrounds; someone has to craft and post updates or tweets; most critically someone has to monitor and moderate (if applicable) the conversation taking place around each social channel, and actively engage with the community. Do they have the resources available and committed?
5. Do they have a content plan sufficient for at least 3-6 months?
The fastest way to end up with abandoned social accounts is to launch them without a clear, consistent plan for creating and posting content (posts, tweets, etc.). Ask anyone who’s managed a company Facebook page, blog, or Twitter account – coming up with good content, day after day, week after week, is damn hard. If they don’t have a plan, either they’re not taking the challenge seriously or they don’t know what they’re getting in to.
6. Do they have a plan and resources for promoting the accounts through other marketing channels?
Build it, and they will come is not an acceptable social media marketing strategy. The team asking you for their own unique Twitter account, YouTube channel, Facebook page etc. must have a solid marketing plan for how they will drive awareness of and traffic to those brand new channels. Otherwise in all likelihood they’ll end up twisting in the wind, and eventually abandoned as they team realizes they’re not seeing any value in them.
These are simply a starting point, an initial set of questions to ask internal teams both to identify those with a real and justifiable need (and the resources and commitment to back it up), and to get those who lack that thinking in the right direction.
What other questions should be asked?
Crowdsourcing is a hit-or-miss proposition, and when it comes to crowdsourcing logo or design work, it can often result in some nasty blowback. So it’s interesting to see a successful example of a major brand crowdsourcing the design of an iconic logo, as a de facto social media marketing campaign to generate buzz.
In this case it’s Chiquita, and the iconic logo is the little blue and yellow sticker that anyone who has ever had a banana probably recognizes. It seems Chiquita went out and crowdsourced the redesign of the sticker, got over 100,000 votes for the 50 finalists, and generated some nice buzz around a product that normally is hardly considered cutting edge.
Cliff Huang over on fastcodesign.com makes a great point about why this worked for Chiquita, relative to the challenges of crowdsourcing your primary logo or major campaign creative:
The stickers are a perfect outlet for the crowdsourcing. It’s not like crowdsourcing your logo or an entire ad campaign — which gets you mediocrity in exchange for a bit of passing buzz. Rather, the sticker itself is such an obvious passing fancy that even if it’s not great, it doesn’t matter. (And even if it’s not great, the real estate is so tiny that the most important thing — the brand’s colors — remain. To preserve the core mark, the contest made sure to mention that the Chiquita girl could not be shown in any of the entries.) So you get the buzz, but it doesn’t take over your branding because the icon itself remains intact.
I don’t necessarily agree with Cliff’s side point about how crowdsourcing larger project necessarily produces mediocrity, but that’s for a later post. For now, hats off to Chiquita for a smart big of marketing and a brand team willing to take some risks.
Found via @TDefren
This video is a few months old, and the general argument one often made by both Spike Jones (@spikejones) and his former agency Brains on Fire, but I just came across it and it’s well worth the watch:
One of the best points made is this one (paraphrasing): A campaign is not a movement. A campaign has a start date and an end date – a movement never ends. However, I’d add one corollary: many campaigns these days seek to develop elements of a movement, by building or engaging with communities – and just like movements, communities don’t just end either. That’s a really critical point for marketers in all disciplines to grasp, as it carries profound implications for anyone involved in word of mouth, social media, or community marketing.
Most marketing campaigns these days – while unfortunately in no way planned out to spark “movements” – do include some kind of community-building efforts. These can be as shallow as attracting fans to a Facebook page or Twitter account, or as deep as actively engaging that passions of established and vocal groups, clubs, forums, and so on. If your campaign actually manages to resonate with people, communities of all size and stripes could start to form around it or the products, services, or brand it’s promoting.
These communities of fans, followers, advocates, and evangelists are paying attention and engaging with your efforts, responding to your prompts, sharing with their friends, and even co-opting the campaigns lingo, creative, and so on. The marketer’s dream situation, right?
Not if you then pull the rug out from under them three months later. As Spike notes, a marketing campaign has a defined lifespan – it launches, cycles through various stages, and then shuts down while the marketing team rolls onto the next big thing. But those communities that may have formed around your product or campaign live on, and if you simply walk away to go focus on the next big thing, you risk anger, disaffection, or outright backlash by the very people who just last week you counted as your most passionate fans.
Even if you’re not wholly adopting Spike’s message and investing the time and energy it takes to try and build a movement around your brand, every marketer needs to be aware that the social and community elements of their brand and campaigns will in many cases outlive the quarterly media spend. If your fans and advocates invest the time and emotion into what you put out there, simply shutting down and moving onto the next campaign could carry some seriously negative effects.
In short: If you’re marketing effort involves trying to reach out to or cultivate communities of fans, advocates (or even skeptics) – which it should in almost every case – you need to be prepared to do it well beyond the life of the campaign of the moment. Like it or not, you’re in it for the long haul.