Take a Pollyanna view


I talk to a lot of organisations about social media. So I tend to hear the same questions again and again.

Social media doesn't have to be a car crash
Social media doesn't have to be a car crash

You can probably guess what sort of questions they are. I’ll write a FAQ list one day. But in the meantime, I want to share one of the most intriguing questions:

“What happens if somebody says something bad about us?”

It’s every organisation’s fear. As soon as they put up their shingle in social media, opening themselves up to public comments, they tend to wonder what will happen when someone criticises them. (Nobody ever asks: what happens if someone praises my product? What happens if someone says I’m their favourite supplier of Whatchamacallits?)

So what’s my response?

I tell them, “you should almost want somebody to say something bad about you”.

If somebody criticises you, it’s an opportunity for you to talk about yourself. It’s an opportunity to put the record straight. They’re publicly asking a FAQ. Organisations should be rubbing their hands in glee at this chance to shine.

…that’s provided they’re doing the right thing of course.

If you’re in business and proud of your product, if you’re a good employer, if you care about the community you operate in, and you’re open to continual improvement, don’t be scared of social media. Use good judgement with your content, yes. Have a management strategy and a clear understanding of what you want from social media. Be ready with answers to frequently asked questions. But be confident that social media can support you. Your customers and audiences can use social media – so can you.

Social media presents another opportunity to brand yourself. At the risk of sounding very Pollyanna , public slanging on a Facebook page or other social forum is a chance to turn someone’s frown upside down. If you’re criticised online:

  • Investigate the issue quickly
  • Don’t take it personally – treat it as a concerned question
  • Write a factual response
  • Always, always thank the person for their comment
  • Take their opinion on board. Should your business be changing something about the way it works? Social media comments are often precursors to wider community concerns.

Have you ever asked an organisation a question on a social media platform? What did you think of the response?

9 Comments Add yours

  1. adriankhall says:

    @Prakky this can be taken one step further. Social Media for Crisis Management: http://www.asiadigitalmap.com/2009/12/jamie-moeller-ogilvy-john-bell-crisis/.

  2. the issue ive always faced is that some companies just DONT want to be talked about. i know this is a weird concept – however their concern is not driven out of the consumer end because not all companies are consumer driven.

    and it’s these where my experience has been.

    it then becomes far more important to ensure employees follow the code of conduct and if and when they say something, they essentially dont say anything… but companies are not even embracing this basic principals – and that’s the biggest concern i have of all!!! and probably something i CAN blog about :))

  3. Peter Kelley says:

    Does this answer change for religious organisations like churches? With a business you at least will be dealing with people who are customers or potential customers. With a church there are people who see it as their mission to discredit and attack churches at every opportunity and on the other side there are the zealots who take a personal affront over any criticism.

    Does this degree of polarisation of opinion change the social media strategy?

    1. Prakky says:

      Very interesting question Peter. In my experience, church members love to engage in a good religious debate. We’ve all come across the evangelists who love to knock on your front door and aren’t easily removed!
      Nevertheless, if an organisation was overwhelmed by negative debate on their social networks and wanted this to stop, I’d say it was a question of how they position themselves. I’ve seen organisations post very upfront expectations in their social media bios, along the lines of “We’re happy to receive constructive criticism but we will remove any hateful or inciteful material. Please respect this community …” etc.
      Or an organisation may build a social platform that is ONLY about event dates, or photo sharing and so on. It’s a matter of how you position yourself, your goals, and how you position yourself online. An organisation (or individual for that matter) shouldn’t strive to be ‘everything to everyone’ online, any more than they would in real life.

  4. Hector says:

    Another argument is “better to have them air their rants in an environment you control and can respond, than elsewhere (e.g. Trip Advisor)”.

    Although being honest, this concern feels sysiphusian (spelling right?) and still with low chances of success if the company’s culture is of a late adopter.

  5. Erica says:

    Thanx for addressing this one Prakky.

    I’ve encountered it a bit, and I find it another way that organisations sometimes underestimate their audience.

    People aren’t stupid. If they only ever read/hear/see (overly) good (potentially filtered) content about a company, they will become suspicious…

    The “human” element of social media can be forgotten, and it is perfectly human to make mistakes, and then have an opportunity to correct and/or learn from them…

    I have greater respect for an organisation that I see publicly addressing criticism and feedback.

    So if an organisation doesn’t want to get involved in that kind of conversation, they shouldn’t get involved in social media. And should continue to let their website/collateral just talk AT their audience.

  6. Mal Chia says:

    I get that question a lot as well. It’s a very old school mentality to be afraid of receiving genuine feedback and I 100% agree with your response that it is an opportunity to turn a detractor into an advocate simply by reaching out to them and addressing their concerns. The other answer I always give is that the conversation is going to take place online whether you like it or not. It is incumbent on you to pay attention, learn and improve from it.

  7. Chris Foster says:

    “What happens if somebody says something bad about us?”

    Hey! they already are…

    I think this highlights the need to listen, listen, listen before making any decisions to engage publicly.

    Staff should be made aware of what’s being said about their organisation and given the chance to address any shortcomings internally. This has the benefit of identifying those who are most passionate about their employer…the champions and also those who maybe aren’t going to make the journey into awesomeness.

    If the organisation has listened, addressed any shortcomings and empowered their staff to engage….maybe they are ready to be awesome in public.

    On the other hand, if they have listened and realized they are truly crap..then maybe it’s too early to utilize social in the public realm. These guys need to use social internally to improve their culture and business practices first….but they listened first and didn’t do any damage going externally with social too early.

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