Responding to Negative Online Comments

12 basic principles for handling difficult questions, comments and statements on the social web. These apply to communications, marketing and customer service issues as much as they do HR and other activities.

Move fast. The longer you take to respond to comments, the more you risk appearing unresponsive, uncaring or, worse, secretive. According to NM Incite (pdf), users of Facebook pages expect to be responded to within 24 hours and Twitter users within 2 hours. In social media, it often pays more to be quick than 100% accurate.

Be accurate. Despite the pressure on speed, try to be as factual as possible – angry customers and bloggers love to highlight, question and poke holes in wooly or cagey responses. Make sure to double-check the facts with your sources and it you’re not confident about the answer, at the very least acknowledge the question, comment or statement, express concern and say you are looking into it. This can help buy you more time to find the appropriate solution.

Be flexible. Don’t assume that either the complaint is 100% genuine (consider carefully its motivation) or that you are 100% correct in your response. If you don’t have the full facts, say so publicly and communicate updates thereafter regularly. Appear anxious to help, as opposed to desperate to please. Backing yourself into a rhetorical corner can prove awkward when you have to extricate yourself publicly.

Be transparent. Admit if you have made a mistake. Denials, evasions insincere apologies as a means of quietening a community are often quickly spotted by the community and may simply inflame the issue. And while the tactic of trying to take a conversation offline can help diffuse difficult situations by buying you more time to assess the situation and/or find a solution, it can also be seen by the customer as a sign of weakness or withdrawal and lampooned as such.

Be sincere. If the complaint is genuine, apologize sincerely and with humility and in language appropriate to the audience. And yet an apology will mean nothing unless the problem is resolved in a reasonable manner. Sharing what you as an organization have learned through the experience is also a good way of demonstrating that your empathy is genuine.

Be human. As The Cluetrain Manifesto pointed out, ‘conversations among human beings sound human’, and are ‘conducted in a human voice’ that is ‘typically open, natural and uncontrived’. Look to use language that is accessible, engaging and empathetic while remaining at core professional and objective. Avoid jargon and respond direct to the individual or group using their actual names. ‘Dear valued customer’ doesn’t wash it with customers increasingly expecting personal attention.

Be focused. Not all customers are equal, and while social media is leveling the playing field, some – the 1% – are most active in the community. You need to identify your top influencers, make sure to understand their interests, requirements and behaviors, and make sure your PR, marketing and customer service teams understand when and how to interact with them. This is not to say you should ignore the rest of the community which, clearly, must not be allowed to feel unwanted or ignored, but be aware that complaints from highly socially engaged customers, bloggers and other influencers may impact not just the community itself but can also make waves beyond it.

Follow-up. Once you have acknowledged the issue and responded, find ways to engage direct with the customer in question on an ongoing basis. Encouraging deeper discussion on the topic will show you are willing to listen and learn, and help make them feel like you care. Equally, walking away once you have responded can make it appear as if the customer is no longer a priority.

Add value. Following up also provides you with additional opportunities to add value to conversations and hence deepen relationships and re-build trust. Look to be helpful by providing options rather than just a single solution, or be seen to go the extra mile by pointing people to useful or relevant information. People will notice – and may comment on the fact – that you are bending over backwards to help them.

Take control. Negative comments on your community should be actively managed – it is after all your channel. Proactively rebut statements that are demonstrably untrue or misleading and, above all, don’t run away from your page in challenging times as it will only make your detractors appear as victors. Ensure discussions remain within the parameters you have set in your Community Guidelines and enforce your terms regarding offensive posts, the sharing of confidential or personal information about company executives or other members of the community, third party advertising, repeat/verbatim comments etc. And remember that it is within your rights to ban members who consistently flout the rules, though you may want to explain why you are doing it both to the individual and to the community as a whole.

Avoid fights. Don’t antagonize your audience or get into online arguments: as Nestle discovered to its cost in the wake of Greenpeace’s palm oil campaign, David usually wins against Goliath in the court of online public opinion. If the situation is volatile, step back and wait for the right opportunity to engage with the customer in question, meantime work closely with the relevant internal stakeholders – often Sales, Public Relations and Legal – to develop a reasonable solution. Appearing thin-skinned will only make you appear weak and vulnerable.

Don’t censor. Nothing conveys a failure to listen and understand better than censoring or removing criticism from your official online communities or elsewhere. Realize that critical voices are a price of entry to the social web, and that deleting or demanding changes to negative posts can provide detractors with a powerful rhetorical weapon. Rather, always try to maintain the high ground, be seen to be responsive and listening and deploy a strong legal approach only as the final option: deleting content or threatening bloggers may simply result in the so-called ‘Streisand effect’ as complaints escalate and go viral.

It is essential that the teams managing official channels as well as interactions with third party online communities understand these principles and are properly trained in the art and science of handling negative opinion.

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AMA Social Media Policy

Professionalism in the Use of Social Media

The Internet and social media in particular, have created the ability for medical students and physicians to communicate and share information quickly and to reach millions of people easily. Participating in social media, social networking and other similar Internet opportunities can support physicians’ personal expression, enable individual physicians to have a professional presence online, foster collegiality and camaraderie within the profession, provide opportunity to widely disseminate public health messages and other health communication. Social media, blogs, and other forms of communication online also create new challenges to the patient-physician relationship. Physicians should weigh a number of considerations when maintaining a presence online:

(a) Physicians should be cognizant of standards of patient privacy and confidentiality that must be maintained in all environments, including online, and must refrain from posting identifiable patient information online.

(b) When using the Internet for social networking, physicians should use privacy settings to safeguard personal information and content to the extent possible, but should realize that privacy settings are not absolute and that once on the Internet, content is likely there permanently. Thus, physicians should routinely monitor their own Internet presence to ensure that the personal and professional information on their own sites and, to the extent possible, content posted about them by others, is accurate and appropriate.

(c) If they interact with patients on the Internet, physicians must maintain appropriate boundaries of the patient-physician relationship in accordance with professional ethical guidelines just, as they would in any other context.

(d) To maintain appropriate professional boundaries physicians should consider separating personal and professional content online.

(e) When physicians see content posted by colleagues that appears unprofessional they have a responsibility to bring that content to the attention of the individual, so that he or she can remove it and/or take other appropriate actions. If the behavior significantly violates professional norms and the individual does not take appropriate action to resolve the situation, the physician should report the matter to appropriate authorities.

(f) Physicians must recognize that actions online and content posted may negatively affect their reputations among patients and colleagues, may have consequences for their medical careers (particularly for physicians-in-training and medical students), and can undermine public trust in the medical profession.

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Google+ SEO/SEM tool or social media platform?

Since its launch 15 months ago, a big question still remains: Is Google+ a SEO/SEM tool or a social media platform?

Google+ has grown tremendously in the past year (400M users as of September 2012) but the lack of engagement has led to comparing the platform to a ghost town.  Is the comparison fair, if you look at the figures, it certainly seem so.

A study from RJ Metrics shows that

  • The average post on Google+ has less than one reply, reshare and +1.
  • 15% of users will not post publicly again even after posting publicly five times.
  • The average time between posts is 12 days for active users.
  • The average number of public posts per active users declines steadily month after month.

In contrast, a the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 52% of Facebook users and 33% of Twitter users engage with the platform daily and a ComScore survey shows that Google+ users spent an average of 3.3 minutes on the site in January vs. 7.5 hours for Facebook.

In response to these dismal figures, Google decide to flex its muscle and leverage its strength in searches by weaving Google+ in their search results, forcing businesses in Google+ by shelving Google places and integrating Google+ and +1 in their search algorithm and the approach seems to show some results

According to an August 2012 survey by SEOMoz,

  • 54.9% of online marketers worldwide said Google+ was one of their top five most-used sites for social media marketing, compared to 87.7% who cited Facebook and 82.7% who cited Twitter. Google+ did, however, come in above YouTube, which 48.9% of respondents cited.
  • 63.8% of respondents stated that they had set up a Google+ business profile, compared to 75.8% who set up or ran a Facebook business page.
  • 89.5% cited changes in Google’s algorithm, like Google Panda, and Google+ as likely to make authorship, site and author ownership of content more important in the coming years
  • 56.4% said Google+ was likely to become massively influential in search engine results pages. Adoption and use of mobile and Facebook’s domination were also mentioned by 81.7% and 69.1% of online marketers, respectively.
  • 56.1% use Google+ for SEO
  • 65.9% use Google+ for branding,despite the lack of user numbers and buzz

In that respect, it looks like the arm twisting is working, boosting the numbers in terms of new accounts, but the growth in new account still has not translated into engagement.
The question still is:  Is Google+ a social media platform or a SEO/SEM tool

Social Media Influencial in Food Decision

According to a new survey by eMarketer, social media influences purchasing decision when it comes to food:  36% bought a new brand after seeing a close friend’s recommendation, 30% after not so close friend recommended it, 20% after they saw products highly rated by users in their network and 17% after they read highly rated reviews from people they do not know

Leading Sources that Influence US Internet Users

In addition, the survey shows that when it comes to food, users are primarily sharing two thing: photos and recipes.

A May Blogher survey shows that recipes are one of the most sought-after pieces of food content online with 89% of internet users interested in food content going online for recipes.

Ina another survey, Allrecipes.com found that 65% of females who regularly used recipe sites bought branded ingredients called for in the recipes at least sometimes. 21% said they “usually” did this.

In yet another May survey, Compete found that food was by far the leading topic category for interactions on Pinterest leading to conversion.  25% overall had bought a product after discovering it on Pinterest, and surprisingly, considering Pinterest’s reputation as a female stronghold, 37% of male users were spurred to buy, compared to just 17% of female users.

US Female Bloggers* vs. Internet Users Who Go Online for Select Food-Related Content, May 2012

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Small and Medium Size Businesses Struggle to Adopt, Integrate Social Media

Small and medium-sized businesses still lag behind when it comes to using social media and integrating it throughout the business.

In a March 2012 study from SMB Group, only 24% of US small businesses, those with between 20 and 99 employees, said they used social media to engage with customers and prospects in a strategic and structured way. An additional 20% said they used social media, but in an ad hoc, informal way. US medium-sized businesses, with 100 to 999 employees, were slightly more active, as 33% said they used social media in a strategic way and 19% in an ad hoc way.

Current Use of Social Media to Engage with Their Customers and Prospects According to US SMBs, by Business Size, March 2012 (% of respondents)

When it comes to the specific social channels SMBs are using, Facebook, not surprisingly, tops the list, with 26% of small businesses and 38% of medium-sized businesses saying they used a company Facebook page. Additionally, 20% of small businesses and 32% of medium-sized ones said they also engaged and posted content on relevant Facebook groups. Small businesses were least likely to use geolocation services, with only 3% saying they used them. But for medium-sized businesses, only 6% said they used social bookmarking sites like Digg.

Social Media Channels Used by US SMBs, by Business Size, March 2012 (% of respondents)

Integration of social media within company processes is one of the latest trends, as larger companies work to incorporate social beyond marketing and into customer service, sales, and research and development. SMBs are also working to do so, but still have a ways to go. Of those respondents that used or planned to use social media, 37.7% already integrated social media into the company website and 22.2% did so within marketing processes. However, more than half (55.1%) of respondents had no plans to integrate social media into the product development process, and 43.9% said they had no plans to do so within a company mobile-friendly website.

Integration of Social Media With Their Company Processes According to US SMBs, March 2012 (% of respondents)

A separate May 2012 study from Constant Contact found the majority of US SMBs (60%) were holding their marketing budgets steady in 2012, and that social media marketing was considered effective by only 49% of US small businesses. These smaller companies are holding out, on budgets as well as social media integration, but they would be well-served to follow in the footsteps of larger companies and get involved.

Moms Trust Blogs

More than two-thirds of mothers consider blogs to be a reliable resource for parenting information

moms trust blogs

Anxious mothers show a tendency to go online in search of answers to an endless litany of questions about raising and caring for their kids. And mothers who looked to the web for parenting advice considered blogs to be the most trustworthy social media platform, according to a July 2012 survey of US online mothers by blog company BlogHer.

More than two-thirds of respondents said they trusted the information and advice gleaned from blogs. Interestingly, faith in blog posts spiked among mothers ages 28 to 45, at 72%, and was a bit lower among both younger and older moms. After blogs, Facebook was the next most trusted social media network at 64%, followed by YouTube at 36%.
Social Media that US Mom Internet Users Trust for Parenting Advice, by Age, July 2012 (% of respondents)

Mothers are not just reading advice online, they’re also taking it. That can mean that a child-specific product or service endorsed on a blog can soon be in a mother’s shopping cart. The most common purchase made as a result of a recommendation on a mom blog was that of a book, at 63%. But BlogHer also found that 56% of moms had made a food purchase based on a blog testimonial, while 48% had bought a baby product.

oms act on blogs

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Reviews Are Key To Build Consumer Trust

Gaining consumer trust is an important issue for marketers seeking to ensure that they’re not scaring prospective customers away. In fact, a March to June survey of US adults conducted by About.com found that 84% of respondents felt that brands needed to prove themselves trustworthy before they would interact with them or other information sources. Moreover, the study found that there were 10 primary trust “elements,” or cues, that brands must establish in order to engender trust, including accuracy, expertise and transparency.

In a social media context, customers wanted to see that brands had a significant number of positive reviews, and that they didn’t go out of their way to hide the negative ones. The survey found that 41% of respondents said the ability to see reviews on social networks added to their feeling of trust in a brand. Reviews played a bigger role in cultivating trust than seeing that friends had “liked” or recommended a brand, or that the brand had accumulated a large tally of “likes.”

Video was found to improve trust the most when it served as a complement to other types of content. This ties back in to consumers’ hunger for useful information. Brands can build trust with potential customers by demonstrating expertise through quality owned content that is also devoid of a hard sales message.