With the way that information can spread virally on the Net today, your company’s message is firmly in the hands of the end consumer. Many businesses are already engaged in sharing business information across social media sites, whilst others are worried about how they should handle negative publicity if they use social media. Here we offer a bit of sound PR advice as to what companies should and shouldn’t do.
Sooner or later it will happen. Your company will come up against an aggrieved or angry customer, a malcontent employee or an influential group who don’t approve of what your company is doing. Just as you don’t want to be slammed on prime-time TV, neither do you want the spark of smoldering discontent that can be started online by a dissatisfied customer. A spark that just in a couple of days can turn into a real fire. Unfortunately, however, many people in management just don’t realize how influential social media is becoming. At least not yet!
But just like the ostrich who sticks his head in the sand, this kind of attitude doesn’t help. Your company is online and therefore visible. All the time. It’s no longer possible to ignore the conversations that are taking place online. Even if you haven’t chosen to join in the conversation via social media like Facebook and Twitter, others have. And they’re likely to want to get in touch with you via these channels – especially when they are dissatisfied with your business or organization.
Below, we share with you some simple PR techniques that may well be worth thinking about so that your company is ready when people start talking about you on a blog, Facebook or Twitter.
Listen and follow the dialogue that’s taking place across social media channels so that you’re prepared to respond if a customer is dissatisfied. Respond in time, apologize and compensate the customer before any major damage is done.
An example of how you can turn a negative situation into something positive is what recently happened to Southwest Airlines. They refused to let an overweight passenger fly with them. That evening the man tweeted about what had happened and the news spread quickly across the Net. Thankfully Southwest were listening. They quickly responded on Twitter, apologized and compensated the man. Before the story had got too big the company had apologized on Twitter, published an apology on their blog and outlined their policy.
It’s totally acceptable to explain to a customer what’s happened. But sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich is not a solution. Get involved on the social media channels where rumors are spreading, communicating your message clearly, simply and without being aggressive. Also, make sure to update your own online channels such as your blog, newsroom, and website explaining and clarifying what’s happened. Make sure your official position regarding the incident is also easy to find.
When talking with customers don’t ever be defensive or aggressive; don’t deny everything or blame someone else. If you do you risk irritating the customer even more. You can have different opinions about what happened – but that doesn’t mean the customer is wrong. Being defensive only puts you in an unwanted position, so avoid it at all costs. It’s how the customer experienced the situation that you should respond to. Be pleasant and polite when entering into any conversation with the customer; be honest and where necessary admit your mistake.
If something has gone wrong it’s important to apologize, explain what’s happened and compensate the customer. It’s impossible to control everything in business. There’s always someone who is going to consciously or unconsciously make things unpleasant at work, be rude to a customer or say something inappropriate. Take responsibility for what’s happened and compensate the customer. As you may well know, a dissatisfied customer who is promptly compensated if you’ve messed up often turns out to be a great ambassador for your brand.
Make sure your company is customer-focused and practice what you preach at all times. The better you take care of your customers, product quality and service, the less chance there is that someone will complain. And if anyone does complain, solve the problem as quickly as possible and turn it into something positive.
Finally, remember that it is only an illusion that you have complete control over how your brand is perceived. One of the most vital jobs for communications departments is to ensure your target audience clearly understands what you company (or brand) stands for. However, it’s also important for you to realize that nowadays it is the customer who controls how your brand is perceived online. That’s why it’s necessary to be where your customers are, engaging with customers online with situation-specific messages – but also obviously focusing on your key value propositions.
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