Social Media’s Growing Impact on Businesses

Years ago, before social media was even a glimmer in the eye of the most Review Sitesadvanced techie, my school-age daughter asked me after a particularly bad consumer experience,  “Mommy, is this one of those places we’re never coming back to?”

Back then, that was pretty much the only recourse – especially for some of the chain stores where complaining to the manager did not seem to make much of an impression.

Poor customer service has been – and probably always will be – part of the retail experience.  People are fallible, after all.  They make mistakes; they have bad days.  But it’s becoming much more dangerous for businesses to screw up in this area.  Social media has provided the sword for customers who, rightly or wrongly, feel they have been treated unfairly.

According to data reported in a Forbes article, “nearly 95% of customers share bad product experiences online; 45% share bad customer services experiences with others.” The results can be devastating, especially for a small business without the public relations staff or resources to fight back.

This trend is only getting stronger. BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2013 reported that 67% of consumers read fewer than six reviews before making up their mind about whether or not to patronize a local business; only 22% read more than ten.

Their analysis?  “Consumers are forming opinions faster now than before. . . .This means that local businesses need to manage their online reputation even more closely than before.”  You can access the full survey results here.

You may not be able to resolve every customer’s complaint right away, but it’s important to treat it seriously, and to treat the complaining customer with respect.   In these situations, what your customers want, first and foremost, is to be listened to.  They want to know they matter to you.

But what about the customer who never complains in person and goes directly to social media to post a complaint?  That’s where the real work comes in.  You should regularly monitor any sites that are likely to post reviews on your type of business.  It’s time consuming, but essential, to search for – and promptly respond to – complaints and ask for an opportunity to resolve the issue.  It’s also a good idea to thank people who give you a positive review.

Whether you respond online or off line, you may want to do some internal research before you respond to get some background on what could have gone wrong.  Just keep in mind that a positive experience in resolving a complaint can often turn a complaining customer into a dedicated customer, and there’s a good chance their next post will be a rave review.

(Search tip:  Many customers will use your company’s hashtag to “tag” their post.  If your business is called Mary’s Pet Place, for instance, your hashtag is #maryspetplace. You can search for the hashtag to see what comes up.)

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Does Your Company Need a Social Media War Room?

Social media war rooms are in the news right now.  In fact, they recently were a featured part of a story by Ned Hibberd of Houston’s FOX 26 TV News. The story, which was prompted by Hibberd’s own experience as a consumer, quoted Lisa Dimond, principal of DoubleDimond Public Relations.

It isn’t surprising that this topic is gaining more attention.  While social media channels are great for creating interest, hearing from and targeting consumers, they can create havoc with your company brand.  All it takes is one embarrassing video posted on YouTube or one thoughtless comment on Twitter and, with the speed of light, you are dealing with a PR crisis.

Most companies – especially those who sell products or services to the public – are taking this possibility very seriously.  It’s dangerous not to do so, considering such recent social media missteps as the tweet by a KitchenAid employee during the presidential debate.  The tweet was quickly disavowed by the company, which helped tamp down on the negative publicity they were receiving.

Although corporations are not known for moving quickly, social media demands immediacy.  You have to communicate in real time – engaging with consumers and responding quickly to online comments and complaints.  In fact, with the appropriate response, you can turn a complaint into a positive experience for your customers.

And that’s where war rooms come in.  Many large corporations have in-house war rooms within their marketing or public relations department to monitor the use of their name across social media.

Do you need a war room?  Unless you are a big company sporting a well-known brand name, it’s probably not cost-effective.

But reputation monitoring is essential for all businesses.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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“Spin,” Part 2: Lipstick on a Pig

spinPutting Lipstick on a Pig, Making a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear – these phrases have been used for years to describe so-called “PR spin.”  It’s the usually fruitless activity of trying to slap a positive face on a negative event.

A few years ago, a struggling charity that had expanded its services beyond what it could adequately fund, sent out a letter to its contributors.  The letter, written in a cheerful – almost giddy – tone, described this “exciting” news:  the organization was cutting many of its programs (and the people who worked in them) to focus on its core services.

Yes, it was a positive move financially; no longer would the charity have to struggle to pay its bills.  However, the tone of the letter indicated a complete lack of regard for the negative impact of its decision – not only on the people who used those discarded programs, but also on the employees who had just lost their jobs.

In trying to make what was a necessary, but distressing, decision sound positive, the letter came across as insensitive and insincere.  How much better to just state the facts – that the organization was having financial difficulty and was forced to make cuts to ensure its future survival, since its core services were sorely needed by the community.  That could be followed up with a Call to Action, asking donors to help with the current situation and perhaps increase donations for the future in order to restore some, if not all, of those programs.  After all, one presumes that a charity’s donor base is essentially a friendly audience that supports the cause.

This type of behavior is not unique to that charity; we see it almost daily in the media.  Some prominent organization or person will do or say something that is embarrassing – or, in some cases, just plain awful.  Then they will try to pretend that the incident either never happened – or didn’t happen the way it was portrayed.  Usually these denials are so transparent they prolong what would have been long-forgotten with a simple mea culpa.

In short, when bad things happen, it’s always best to face up to it.  Get the facts out there, quickly and without subterfuge, and tell everyone what you plan to do about the situation.  Ask for assistance (if it’s called for) and report back from time to time to inform everyone about how things are going.

You – and your organization – will look a lot more credible without the “spin.”

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Protecting Your Reputation: No “Spin” Involved

Mark Twain is said to have coined the phrase,  “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”  Twain died in 1910.  One wonders what he would have thought of a world dominated by social media because his comment is truer today than ever.

Just a decade ago, it was a much different situation.  Public relations counselors would occasionally get calls from potential clients who needed to dispel a bad reputation – mostly earned, unfortunately.  This is not the best time to contact a PR firm.  It’s much easier to begin a PR firm-client relationship with a company that already has a good reputation – or even a reputation that is essentially a blank slate.

The problem isn’t that a company’s bad reputation cannot be turned around; it just takes time and is often hindered if a company doesn’t want to change its practices – just the negative perception its practices have generated.  In these cases, the PR firm ends up spending a lot of time trying to convince company executives that there are no magic wands that can make reality disappear.  The company actually has to change the way it does things.  Perhaps due to the overuse of the word “spin” to describe what PR people do, these company executives expect a miraculous turnaround.

But now, it can be even worse for companies who are not prepared.  Disgruntled former employees, disappointed customers, and competitors can fill online “review” sites with negative comments – earned or not.  Damaging blog posts, photos and videos can spread to literally millions of people before their content can be disputed or explained away.

Entire businesses have sprung up to deal with online reputation management.

And yet, the basic PR approach still applies:  Build a positive reputation to begin with, and it will be easier to control any attacks on your reputation down the road.  No “spin” involved.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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The Importance of Being Silent

Two things happened this morning that made me think about our new “very connected” world.  The first was a (thankfully, positive) discussion with a journalist about something that had happened years ago, but that is still present on the Web.  “Nothing ever goes away anymore,” he said.  So true.

The second was an incident of someone I knew, planning to forward an outraged response to an email she had received, but accidentally sending her response to the original sender instead.  Ouch!

In the first instance, it does amaze me how a simple Google search of my name produces items from jobs and volunteer activities long forgotten by me – but not by the Web. In the second instance, who hasn’t meant to forward an email with a comment to a friend or business associate, yet accidentally sent it to the originator?

We have a tendency to think that famous people – actors, politicians, media figures – are the only ones who have to worry about this.  After all, they have such a large audience, and in many cases, a wrong phrase or embarrassing video gone viral can put the brakes on their careers.

But we all have audiences we care about, and we should be mindful that what we do and say may become public.  Obviously, we should behave well anyway; but a slip in demeanor nowadays can have wide-ranging and long-lasting consequences.

As public relations counselors, we’re often tasked with encouraging our clients to communicate – to tell their story, present their message and respond quickly and clearly in a crisis.  But we now have to add a caution to our communication trainings.  After all, anything you say publicly “can and will be used,” will never be forgotten, and may define your forever.

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Reputation Management 101

Reputation managementReputation management is an important part of public relations.  It’s many times more difficult to repair a broken reputation than to maintain a good one.  So it would seem obvious that company owners and executives would keep reputation management as one of their top agenda items.  If only that were the case.

Ideally, company executives will consult with their public relations team on a regular basis – to make sure their actions are well-conceived and communicated accurately.  After all, the best communication is not solely from a company to its publics.  It’s important as well to facilitate communication to a company from its publics.  That’s why most PR pros work hard to stay in touch with public opinion on behalf of their employers or clients.

Often, however, company executives charge ahead without giving much thought to how their actions will be perceived.  If things do not turn out well, that’s when they bring in their PR people, expecting them to fix a public perception that by that time has already been sealed in concrete.

You rarely see PR disasters with companies or organizations that have been around awhile.  Their management has learned to head off any unpleasant reactions to what they do by including their PR staff in the decision-making process.

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