Marketers beware. If you’re going to engage your audience online, you need to understand the dynamics of online engagements. This has been explained in book after book, in primer after primer, but I’ll highlight the biggest lessons here just to help drill it into your heads.
- Don’t get caught snoozing. Marketers, you may get the weekends off, but bloggers don’t have that luxury. In fact, often their busiest times are the weekend. You need to have alerts set up about your brand’s presence in the blogosphere (and on social networks), and be prepared to respond quickly when they’re triggered. The folks at McNEIL-PPC were caught snoozing while their Motrin brand was circling the drain one weekend after a new marketing campaign offended the mommyblogger crowd and all hell broke loose on Twitter. They had no backup plan in place, no dark website ready to light up, and ended up taking the site down for more than a day while they figured out what to do.
- Don’t be afraid to apologize. The good news is that the Motrin folks apologized. The bad news is it took them too long. When Matt Bacak’s over-the-top press release got him a great deal of negative attention on Twitter last week, he wasn’t afraid to apologize and admit his mistakes. While it took him longer that most of us would’ve liked, he certainly responded faster than the Motrin folks, or some of the old school horror stories like Kryptonite.
- Take your campaign door-to-door. Another very smart thing that Matt did was respond directly to each Twitter (and a lot of the bloggers) who had called him out (he responded to my tweets, and even agreed to get a picture taken of him wearing the shirt I made him) but I’m still waiting for him to chime in on one of my blog posts).
- Silence is deadly; you cannot not communicate. This is communications 101, folks: silence speaks volumes. In my old days as a social media consultant for a PR agency, a client approached us that had been called out for astroturfing. Apparently some well-intentioned junior marketing folks thought it was a good idea to reply to a negative post about their company and defend the product. They did so anonymously, representing themselves as users. The blogger smelled something fishy, checked the IP addresses and called them on it in an even bigger and more negative post. They asked us if they should respond. I said it depends on how influential the blogger is. Turns out, his blog post was on page one of Google searches for their name. That’s influence, my friends, even if you’ve never head of this blogger before. So I encouraged them to respond, and execute on an SEO campaign. They never responded, but they at least got the SEO campaign going.
- Don’t fake it. You’ll get caught. My client did. Coke got caught, and so did Sony and Wal-Mart.
- Don’t be afraid of controversy. Do you have a crazy but incredibly brilliant person in your office who may not always walk the company line, but who’s also very smart about your product, or one application of your product? Don’t keep that person chained up in the basement like another client of mine did—I guarantee they’ll get a readership. Why? Because crazy is authentic. Nobody talks like marketers do. Be real. Let the guy do three posts about your product and one post about Japanese sword fighting and its relevance to cloud computing (don’t know where that one came from).
- Lawsuits are great publicity—for the people being sued. Think twice before you send that Cease and Desist letter. A former client got one from Apple and got tons of (overall incredibly positive) publicity around it. When T-Mobile’s parent company threatened to sue Engadget over its use of the color magenta, all hell broke loose online. Guess who came out looking like the loser?
- Staff up. When Target became the target of a blogger’s ire, their response landed them in the New York Times, and not in a positive light. Why did they diss this blogger? Because, ultimately, they complained that they just weren’t staffed to deal with responding to every blog query. Folks, pony up the dough to get a few social-media savvy people on your marketing and customer service teams. Comcast did, and they’re now the heroes of corporate social media responsibility. Worth every penny!
- If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Have an outspoken critic? Bring them into the fold. Don’t ignore them—they’re passionate and will probably keep on blogging. Don’t sue them—that just gives them more to blog about. Reach out to them on a personal level, invite them into your organization to understand how things work. Your most outspoken critics can also be your biggest advocates—get them to think about you differently, and you’ve turned a critic into an ambassador… Or at least quieted them down a bit!