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Social media engagement – picking your battles
Social media means that now anyone can say anything about your brand online, and in theory anyone can see what
they say. It has always been the case that your reputation is not what you say it is, but what others say it is, but at no
time has that been more true than the present. This guide provides a few tips for choosing which battles to deal with
online and thinking about how you might approach them.
Finding the negative comments
Monitoring social media sites is the first step to finding where negative (and, of course, positive) comments are
being said about your brand. More and more social media monitoring tools are emerging all the time. Some of the
best free ones include:
Assess the impact and reach of the comment
Consider what kind of reach those comments are likely to have and how much impact the source has. If the
comment is on a blog site, use technorati.com to find that blog and consider its ‘authority rating’. Authority is
measured on a scale of 0-1000, with 1000 being the most influential. If the site you are concerned with has a low
authority rating, it is unlikely to be reaching wide audiences. Likewise, if the concerning comment is posted on
Twitter, look up how many followers the person tweeting the comment has and if it has been ‘Re-tweeted’ (ie
forwarded on by another user to their own community). If the comment has only been seen by 40 followers, it is
unlikely to be worth worrying about. However, if Stephen Fry is the culprit, with over 900,000 followers on Twitter,
then you might want to pay some attention.
Wrong or just expressing an opinion?
Next, you need to question whether the comments being made are factually incorrect or if it is just someone
expressing an opinion. People are entitled to have an opinion and if that is founded on fact or actual experience,
then there’s little that you can do to challenge it without looking worse for it. If the opinion being expressed is
particularly concerning, or likely to have a wide impact, then sometimes the best thing to do is acknowledge the
comments and thank them for the feedback, say that you’re looking into it and that you’re sorry that they’ve had a
negative experience. If the comment is factually incorrect, then providing the correct facts or stats is a legitimate
response, though getting the right tone of voice is essential (see below).
For argument’s sake, let’s say you’ve gone on a weekend break to a quaint village in the middle of nowhere and you
decide to pop to the local pub for a quick pint. As you walk through the door all the locals fall silent. At that point
you announce in your loudest voice that their village is boring, and their beer is flat, before trotting to the bar to
order a gin and tonic. Now, in reality, that just wouldn’t happen (unless you have a tendency to being rude in front of
strangers). Now, let’s map that experience online. Typically in social media spaces people have built up their own
communities of common interest. If a stranger pops up in those spaces and announces that what they have been
talking about is nothing more than codswallop, then you’re unlikely to be taken very seriously. The point here is
about having a presence before an issue arises and building up the trust of that community so that you aren’t seen
only to pop in when there’s something you don’t agree with being said. If you don’t already have a presence in
those spaces, then perhaps find a friendly contact or acquaintance that does and persuade them to right the wrongs
on your behalf. Many times you will find that some people will do this anyway, even without any intervention from
Finding the correct ‘tone’
Responding as a representative or ‘spokesperson’ of an organisation can be tricky. You have to assume a tone of
voice appropriate for representing your organisation, but corporate-speak is unlikely to cut the mustard in social
media spaces. Before you post any kind of response, take a look at other discussions that might have taken place in
those spaces and review the kind of tone of voice that is used. Friendly and conversational is often best, and it
always helps to acknowledge how much to value and respect someone’s opinions even if they are factually incorrect.
You need to strike a balance here between being conversational and maintaining your professionalism. Always be up
front and honest about who you are and who you represent too, and post your response as an individual, not as your
organisation (ie use your name, not just your organisation’s name).
One of your own?
Many organisations have some kind of code of conduct for members, including staff and often students too within
education organisations. Likewise, contracts between an organisation and its suppliers are also likely to have a line
about not doing anything to damage the reputation of the contracting organisation. If the comments are being made
by a member of your own organisation or a current supplier, consider whether such policies provide you with
grounds to politely point out to that colleague that their comments compromise the agreement that they have
signed up to. You might even, for example, turn to an anti-bullying or anti-harassment policy in some cases. As ever,
do it with care and don’t take a heavy-handed approach. If you can do it face-to-face, then that is even better, and
politely point out how such comments might reflect on them if and when they start searching for a new role
elsewhere. Make time, however, to listen to their concerns to show that you do care about their opinion and not just
about protecting reputation. Listening to negative comments and feeding them back to the appropriate people to be
seen to be doing something is equally important for reputation management.