Business use of social media


Uncontrolled social media can burn your reputation

In 2006, as a keynote speaker was delivering their high-powered speech at a tech conference in Japan, a Dell laptop suddenly burst into flames.
Pictures and video footage of the burning computer became viral overnight and spread like wildfire across the internet. Thousands of bloggers started bashing the company and demanding they apologize. In a matter of days, the company’s hard earned reputation and goodwill in the marketplace was in jeopardy as Dell issued the biggest product recall in computer history.
In April 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded and the ensuing spill flowed into the Gulf of Mexico for three months before it was capped. This oil spill caused huge damage to the marine and surrounding environment. It also caused huge economic damage.
Meanwhile, BP’s reputation and business took a massive hit – thanks to the huge impact of social media – particularly a parody of BP’s global pr machine on twitter called BP Global PR. A good summary of the social media commentary around the BP disaster can be here:
These are just two examples of how circumstances (the former no real fault of the company’s, while the latter very much the opposite) and the phenomenon of social media can impact on business nowadays.
Today many businesses have experienced, through no fault of their own, scheming competitors bad mouthing and spreading false rumours about them through social media. These days, the means to spread rumours about a business are many and as a result, it is imperative for businesses to proactively manage their online reputation.
Today, a customer can research a product or service just about anywhere including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and of course, within the dreaded search engine result pages. Reputation Management online is not as tough as one would imagine and can be broken down into four solid pieces. Monitor, Listen, Response and Amplify.
a starting point to online reputation management is for businesses to proactively monitor conversations happening about them. Automated keyword searches can quickly reveal the topics and themes that customers (and competitors) are talking about. Companies often feel overwhelmed in the beginning due to the large volume of content on the internet. But proper configuration and tweaking of keywords can help tremendously.
A business needs to separate the noise from the real conversations taking place on social media about their products or services. The real conversations can be separated into two distinct categories; those that are actively talking about your business, and those that may warn of a storm on the horizon. The latter category requires you to listen carefully and diffuse the storm before it gains strength.
Categorize and separate these conversations into those that need “immediate attention” and those that require “active listening.” This allows time to prepare and to strategize ways to diffuse a situation before the conversation turns into an ugly rant against your company or brand.
Listening requires a careful plan of action with a fine balance between coming across as over protective and defensive and simply monitoring your reputation.
An effective response to ameliorate crises is an art using social media. You don’t want your communication to sound like a well honed PR message. Social media users are highly aware of this and astroturfing ( a term referring to political, advertising, or public relations campaigns that are formally planned by an organization, but designed to mask its origins to create the impression of being spontaneous, popular “grassroots” behaviour) by companies or organisations
People complain on social media channels because they are not satisfied, and they are usually hoping for a resolution. Always be sympathetic, and put yourself in the customer’s position. This does not mean that you should allow a customer to take your brand hostage while they are ranting against your company. However, responding means first analyzing what went wrong and how you can make it right.
A critical piece that companies often neglect is to amplify the positive actions the company took to satisfy the angry customer. Use social media to let the world know that your company goes to great lengths to satisfy their customers. Amplification of positive experiences with your brand or services goes a long way in the social media world. This amplification is not just leaving a comment behind but finding strategic, meaningful ways to communicate to the rest of the world. This is the art of social media.
These are some of the high level strategy pieces that a company or organisation can employ to manage its online reputation.

E is for email etiquette

Once you push send an email is forever public

(Some of the following is based on an article which appeared in the Herald on Sunday, April 10 2011)

In business today, email is the chosen form of communication – whether we want to reach someone across the office or across the world. Despite its ease of use and omnipresence in our lives, it is important to remember that good email etiquette can help those of us using it look more professional. However, a lack of email etiquette can deter our advancement and/or even cost us business. According to Romie Littrell, an associate professor of international business at Auckland University of Technology, business communications should be somewhat formal and structured. “With New Zealand being probably a more egalitarian society than most of the rest of the world, the habit of informality leads to a lax approach to communication in business,” he says.Despite its importance and potential impact, email etiquette is largely ignored by many. A real trap for email users – especially those aged 20 and under – is the using text abbreviations, which is totally inappropriate in a business setting. One of the key benefits of email is its speed, so replying back to someone within 24-hours of receiving an email is important. Even if it is just a quick response saying that an email has been received and you’ll look at it closely later. There are a number of basic guidelines for making email more effective. Here are some:

  • When sending to more than one person, the “To:” line is only for those who need the information contained in the email or need to act on something contained in the email.
  • The “Cc:” line should be for those who merely need to be informed. That way, when you receive an email you’re merely “Cc’d” in, you know you generally don’t have to do anything.
  • It’s dangerous to use the “Bcc:” line to hide a person from the recipient because emails get forwarded. People should only use “Bcc:” to keep someone informed where it’s not necessary for the recipient to know about, for instance your secretary.
  • Generic subject lines such as “hello” or “important” should never be used. The subject should describe what the email is about to give the reader an idea of what it is and determine its importance. A distinctive subject line also helps you keep track of your conversation threads when people respond back to you.
  • If during an email thread someone changes the topic, you should change the subject line. This is particularly handy for those who save emails by topic.
  • When using attachments, particularly with people you don’t know, say what the attachment is.
  • Including a proper signature at the end of an email is imperative. Every email, even replies, should include at least your full name, job title, organisation and telephone numbers. Above all, think before you send.

Probably the most important part of email etiquette is to always be careful what you put in an email, because it’s a public document and will be on the record for ever. Remember that any negative comment or remark, particularly anything personally negative, has a high probability of getting back to the person you said it about. Someone once told me to only send something via email that you would be happy to see printed on the front page of the newspaper – because one day it may well end up there. For email use in business, this is a point well worth remembering before hitting the send or reply button!