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Social media manners for your business

BY BRADY PARKS

So you've decided an online presence is the way to go for your company and you're seeking to build your client base and your brand via various social media platforms - for free. Sounds great right, the ability to reach and communicate your message with your target market as often as you like from your office, home or your mobile device - and all without spending your hard earned dollars. What could go wrong?

I bet you know what the answer to that question. Negative responses, posts, and reviews can send your online brand and your reputation into a tailspin and it can happen with just one bad post. Sooner or later your company will face it, so it's best to be prepared with a strategy on how to handle the situation when it happens to you.

No matter what you sell or what industry you're in, you're going to experience negative word of mouth by those customers who are expressing their complaints on social media. But it's how you handle it that separates you from your competition.

Think of it this way: negative word-of-mouth can be an opportunity. The general rule of thumb is that while unhappy customers talk to five people, formerly unhappy customers you win back talk to 10. So embrace the negativity and start responding with a positive message. Here are some steps you can take to stop the negative, earn new fans and generate respect.

Listen up

A good response starts with listening.

n Set up Google Alerts for your brand and industry keywords.

n Keep a close eye on your social media platforms.

n Read reviews on sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor and Zagat.

n Check out the forums where your customers congregate.

A good listening program makes it easier for you to catch negative posts and respond before they become much harder to turn around.

Is it worth a response?

Not all negative comments are worth of a response. As hard as it can be, sometimes it is best to move on. Situations to avoid:

n The criticism is on a really small blog or forum, and your response will only bring attention and credibility to an issue nobody saw in the first place.

n A known troll who is just wanting to pick a fight.

n An attack that's clearly rude and ridiculous --anyone who reads it understands the poster has a personal problem.

These are simply no-win scenarios, move on and focus on what you can positively affect.

A speedy response

When facing negative word-of-mouth, time is not on your side. The more time goes by, the angrier the customer can get -- and it is more likely others will spread the negative buzz. Try thisâ ¦

"Hello, my name is ------ and I'm here to help. We're looking into your situation right now, I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Please contact me if you have any questions at -------."

This can do two things:

n The person knows he or she has your attention -- there's less incentive to keep spreading the anger.

n Now a real person with real contact info available, if the person is still angry, you've at least given them a place to vent.

Speak like a real person

Don't use a canned corporate response. If you thought they were mad before, wait until you see how they react to post contain in policy terms and fine print.

Show empathy, communicate in a friendly tone and use your real name. It's easy to yell and scream at an anonymous company. But when someone responds and says, "Hi, this is "Jill" and I'm so sorry for your experienceâ ¦" it changes everything. Your critic now realizes he wasn't yelling at a faceless company, he was yelling at Jill. The anger might fade -- you could even get an apology.

A strong apology will always earn more respect than a flimsy, non-apology. The recent United Airlines debacle is a perfect example, their CEO received wide condemnation for his initial response to the situation making a really bad PR nightmare worse.

Make it right

Apologizing is part of turning around negative word-of-mouth, but fixing a problem is how you really win over critics. Everyone makes mistakes. It's how we fix them that people remember.

Don't get into a fight

Even if you think you won an argument online, you're losing. All anyone really remembers is that you were combative.

Explain your side of the story and start a conversation.

n Don't get emotional.

n Remember, it's a real person.

n Believe it or not, they're helping you learn to be better. For every person who actually speaks up, many more walk away, never to return.

Keep the discussion online

When a negative issue comes up, the gut reaction is to ask to move the conversation offline. But when you do this, the world can't see all the effort you put into fixing the problem. No one can see the email where you give that sincere apology. We can't hear that phone conversation where you politely explained why the situation happened in the first place. But when you do it online, in public, you earn word-of-mouth. For the same effort and cost, thousands more people see that you actually care about customers.

Involve your critic in the fix

Think of it as a form of tough love, they're doing it because they care. They see potential, and they want you to do better. Instead of seeing them as critics, start looking at them as frustrated fans that might have some worthwhile ideas.

Social media - pros and cons

Social media is a great way to get the word out about your company, product or brand. Let's face it, a company today has to be active online to be successful and reach its target audience. Like any other tool, you need to know how to use it and what to do when that tool yields unexpected results.

Keeping a close eye on your accounts is critical to maintaining control of the buzz you are creating. A hammer can drive nails all day long, but it can pull them out too. Knowing how the tool works will help as you build your company and your client base.

Brady Parks is a business consultant with the Murray State University Small Business Development Center, which assists small businesses in many areas including business plan development, market research and financial analysis. Call 270-809-2856 for more information.

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