We all have opinions and will form them about the brands we interact with. People will also talk and those opinions will out, as a marketer you try to influence that stream of consciousness, however you never really know which direction someone’s opinion will take, so after you’ve taken all though proactive measures to create the right kind of brand signals and perceptions, you’ve got to be ready to react.
Social media is probably the number one way in which people vent about a brand, something like 30% will choose to use the right Twitter handle, the rest won’t, many of those will also choose to go down the route of using subtle references to your brand.
Hopefully most of these mentions will get picked up and you’ll probably be able to deal with them all relatively quickly, in a professional and courteous manner, however you need to be able to understand the people talking about your brand. The work you’ve done in developing customer personas is going to help on this front, if they don’t fit your brand personas is there a reason for this and do you need to do further audience research? Hopefully you’ll have a good understanding about the person before you answer; you’ll know what makes them happy, what annoys them and what they want from you.
Remember it’s not just social media that you need to think about; you should have Google alerts set up to enable you to react when you get mentioned in blogs and forums, you’ll react in much of the same way, but for this blog I’m thinking mainly about social media and especially Twitter.
So what types of people are talking about your brand online?
First job is to create a spreadsheet with the different types of people talking about your brand. In this spreadsheet you’ll want to include different ways to contact them and standout ways in which they’ve engaged with you and the brand.
You’ll want to work on the relationships you have with journalists as their reach can help you get your brand’s message out to a large number of potential customers, conversely this reach can also work against you if something goes wrong and you need to do some fire fighting.
Building up a strong relationship with some good sector-specific journalists is a good start, they’ll naturally be on your side and help you out from time to time and you’ll likely get some exclusive coverage from them when you’re bringing new products or services to market.
My key tips for building up relationships with journalists is to speak with them personally to find out what they’re about and try to do them favours. Keep an eye on them online and share what they’re up to, including their handles and links to their posts, that will get you on their radar. Just keep in touch and find out what they’re working on, what they’ll be working on in the future, see if there’s anything you can do to contribute towards that kind of content. It may feel like you get nothing back from the industry journalists you’re working with to start off with however it will pay off in the long run.
Similarly to journalists, industry experts need to be sought out and relationships built up with them. They act in the same manner as a journalist in manner respects, however there are a number of ways in which they differ. For example an industry expert may work for a competitor or they may be a consultant working with many different companies. Industry experts may also be less inclined to follow the marketing line you’re putting out there, questioning the veracity of some of your statements which could in turn damage the credibility and perception of the brand both with the customers and in your industry.
I love the groupies. These customers are so engaged with what you’re about that they advocate your brand, your products and services to anyone and everyone. These guys will feel more like friends than customers before long and it’s important to take advantage of them. Just keep an eye out for those people that share a lot of what you do online, as soon as they see you in a newspaper or another publication they’ll be shouting about your brand. Offline you’ll start to hear about these people through your sales channels as their names will start to pop up time and again.
Remember to reward the groupies, they may not have the most followers, or generate you the most money however they will drive other people to your brand and they are influential. When you’re thanking them, thank them every now and then, but let them know you they’ve had your back, just something like “thanks for all the retweets last week”. Always bare in mind that these guys are your brands best friends, know them in that manner and interact with them in this fashion and they’ll keep on promoting your brand.
I’m a huge fan of sending out corporate Christmas cards each year. You want to be sending a corporate Christmas card to your groupies and I’d suggest including a hand written note thanking them personally. Groupies love this; they’ll thank you online, photograph and share it etc.
I’m a huge advocate of empowering the staff in a business to engage and interact with the brand’s output. I’ve worked in businesses where this has been frowned upon, where staff wouldn’t be trusted to help the marketing team increase the company’s reach, however in my experience, it can work really well when everyone gets behind the brand message and shares what you’re doing. Sometimes you’ll get that criticism that can result in some really interesting new ways of thinking about things too – because colleagues working in other departments have a different understanding about the business, products and services.
From time to time there will be a problem with the product or services you’ve offered and you’re customers will want to complain a little, ask for help. These guys are the good guys, they want to get resolution to their problems as quickly as possible. They’ll directly call you out online rather than just using your company’s name and if you’ve got dedicated support accounts online they’re likely to use those. When they ask for your help you should be able to work out what the problem is and how best to deal with it.
I have a policy of shutting conversations in the open down as quickly as possible by saying something like “we’re sorry to hear there has been an issue, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.” The key is not to engage just reinforce this positive message and deal with the issue via email or over the phone later on.
We all know people that like to complain, in most circle of friends there’s that one person that you dread going to a restaurant with because you know something will be wrong and their complaining will dampen the evening’s mood. The whingers that decide to do this online can be problematic as they will have an impact on the brands online reputation and this is something that won’t go away. The whingers will complain in ways you don’t expect, they won’t always talk directly to you, preferring to let their friends and followers know how your brand has let them down. This is a cathartic release which is generally intended to do your brand some kind of damage.
I approach the whingers with the same response as reasonable complainers, however I anticipate they will continue to complain, if anything I expect the generic response will inflame the citation to begin with. It’s important to be cautious and measured in the way you reply. Be creative, use this as an opportunity to improve your products and services and to get a better understanding of your customers, however remember you may not be able to resolve their problems they may just want to complain and sometimes all you can do is end the conversation.
I’ve always believed in working in a collaborative manner with other businesses, and this includes competitors. To many this may seem like an unnatural thing to do, however you can learn a lot by working with and speaking with your competitors. You’ll also find that your biggest competitor doesn’t compete with 100% of what you do, there will always be room for collaboration.
You should always follow and seek out your competitors online to find out what they’re up to, this will give you some great insights in their business. You should be able to help them disseminate some of their company news and maybe some of their non-product focussed, informative content.
If you want your brand to grow online you need to start talking back to your audience, to really engage with them. To do this you need to understand them. If you’ve gone to the trouble to produce personas for your customers, why wouldn’t you do some persona work on the other members of your audience so you can really understand what makes them tick and so you can engage with them in the right kind of way?
Enjoy the conversation.