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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Fallon Brainfood: Communicators Forum @ University of Minnesota

I presented a keynote at last week's Communicators Forum and I ran over time before I could answer many of the Question Cards from the audience. Let's keep the dialogue going. Here are some answers to one of the cards (expect a few more posts in coming days):

Q: Give an example of how you control/mitigate negative feedback in social media on behalf of a client.
A: Control is an interesting word. I don't think you can control negative feedback in social media - or rather, you control negative feedback mostly at the service and/or product touchpoint. I.E. Make good products/services, you control most negative feedback. But I am being coy, I guess.

Lemme reframe the question: 'the villagers are angry, they're outside our gates with blog torches, now what the heck do we do?'

Well, negative feedback seeks a response. And the internal audit that should be had in face of any critique is: 'are they right?' If they are right, um, do something about it. If they are wrong, well do something about that. The tension that often sparks a groundswell of negative sentiment across the web is often the fact that absolutely nothing is done (no repair, no acknowledgment) in face of a critique. This lack of any response fuels a revenge mentality.

In my opinion, many negative feedback crises snowball from 2 faults: 1) not responding properly when the problem was small and indeed "controllable" (think Kryptonite Bic Pen Gate), and 2) not making real change or repairs when/if the negative feedback was made (think airlines still haven't changed the system even after years of us complaining).

This quandry always existed (customers complaining and speaking negatively) - the only difference today: customers can make a blog post and expose you to the world and incite a million-man groundswell against you (though really they are only aggregating a million people that already agreed with the negative sentiment). Let's be real, this isn't the complaining customers' fault (control people's sentiment? no.)- it may be the fault of a problem that actually needs to be addressed and/or changed (control your own organization? yes.).

Strategies for managing negative feedback:

-Take It Seriously. Address the negative feedback when it is just one lone caller/blogger/commenter - try to solve his single problem and turn frowns to smiles (a single change just may help you head off millions of the same latent complaint waiting to bubble up). Today, you never know if that lone complainer has a million followers to his blog.

-Use the blogosphere (or any consumer feedback touchpoint) as your early warning system. Track sentiment. Measurement tools abound (see some of my presentations for dozens of examples).

-Talk back. Directly. Blogs have "comments", make yours. Tweet back. YouTube response video back. Email back. yLive back. IM back. Call back. And it won't hurt you to bring some tidy reparation gifts in exchange, but a clear resolve to the problem is probably gift enough for most.

-Consider inviting critics in - stock your advisory panels with haters/lovers who are likely complaining 'cause they actually care deeply about your brand (funny how that works).

-Adopt a process for personal consumer touch that is proactive (think Comcastcares on Twitter). Phone banks wait for complaints to come, can we meet problems earlier up the stream?

-Enable change agents, not just complaint takers. That means the complaint hotline team needs to be reframed. Organize the negative sentiment into monthly reports, DEFINE THE MOB'S PROBLEM, and have MIB agents who can tap the right officer in the company to deal with these problems. And then hold those departments accountable - think Internal Affairs at the Police Department, somebody complains, somebody gets suspended (or at least investigated). If departments are held accountable to complaints, well, they tend to work harder to prevent the problems. Everybody wins.

I won't pretend these are solely "social media" strategies, as they probably make sense in whatever media your customer touches - its simply called listening and responding (or good business, maybe). There may be some efficiencies to doing these via Facebook, or not.

Yeah, I admit that all these suggestions are not easy. But it ain't easy stomping out a raging groundswell of negative sentiment about your brands, either.

BONUS CASE STUDY: Offer your customers the "Marvel No-Prize"! Marvel Comics has the unique problem of juggling multiple comic characters, with multiple writers and complicated story planes. Over the years mistakes happen in the comic character continuum. Fans are avid and engaged keepers of the brand truth and they will write and call Marvel out on any and all story mistakes. In response to every geek writing in to tell Marvel what idiots they are for missing a story mistake, they introduced the Marvel No-Prize. Marvel No-Prize is the award given to the keen fan who not only points out a mistake BUT ALSO SOLVES HOW THIS IS NOT A MISTAKE AFTERALL (thru some mental jujitsu and back issue research).

A couple things are happening in this model: a) hater energy is converted into solver energy, b) only solvers are recognized in the letters pages of the comics and complaints are "controlled", c) the crowd is tapped on behalf of the brands to co-create and look for holes then patch them up. If you buy my assertion that most haters are secretly your lovers who care deeply about your brand, then the Marvel No-Prize metaphor may work for you, give the haters a paddle in the boat and a way to contribute answers for you, put 'em to work! *The actual Marvel No-Prize that you receive is a heavily branded empty envelope, and your feature in the comic book letters page. Which further proves the point: recognition and credit is half their goal.


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