Why should I care what you think?

I’m angry, no, really – I’m furious, livid, apoplectically incandescent and foaming at the mouth. Why? Because the black cab firm I called to get me into work this morning were 30 minutes late. But they weren’t just late, they were lying about being late – ‘it’s-800-yards away-and-just-around-the-corner-stuck-in-traffic’ suddenly turned into ‘it’s-not-been-dispatched – at all”, so I’m rushing; like a mad thing I’m on the warpath for another ‘for hire’ light. When it happened… I tweeted.

Oh yes, I tweeted. While hot under the collar, I was boiling, stirred up, hopping mad, and I tweeted about the dishonesty and incompetence of a named company, and I know I’m not alone. It’s becoming a regular occurrence: I don’t think you can log onto Twitter or Facebook or any other social media site without seeing some update or another from an irate contact venting their spleen about one corporation or another in a very public forum.

While I’m the first to admit that this morning’s tweet isn’t going to bring down the PLC in question, and it probably did nothing to affect their reputation with 98% of all of my online contacts, it has left a permanent black mark online against their brand. An unhappy customer – never the easiest beast to tame – has found a new pedestal to bellow from. Unlike the newspaper letter columns and occasional consumer interest programmes these articles online, however short, last forever and are completely searchable.

The important question here is how brands are going to deal with this real time online assessment of their work and services? As part of my on-going series looking at crisis management I’d like you to think about social networking and why you should care what your customers think and say about your brand online.

The first thing to consider is immediacy. Brands no longer have the cushion of time to soften the blow of criticism. If you upset, offend, or let someone down in the digital age, you’re likely to be hearing about it sometimes before they’ve even left your building or your website. They’ll be on their mobile device, or tweet platform online, leaving real time feedback.

The second is that even if there are only a few negative comments, these will be archived, mashed-up, searched through, aggregated onto other social media sites and tagged on, for days, months and years to come. And there’s probably nothing you can do to get rid of even the most misleading or over-inflated grievance.

So what do you do? If the answer you’d like to hear is run away and bury your head in the sand, you’re about to be awfully disappointed… The simple fact is that you can’t. You’ve got to engage, which doesn’t mean arguing with nutters, nor does it mean answering every query ever aimed at you online (although if you could do the latter you might find you do your brand the world of good). Instead get your brand online and start to answer questions, follow up on complaints, and link up with people that advocate you and evangelise your brand. This means that you’re able to be part of the conversation – remember, you can’t control it, but being part of it is the first step in starting up an open dialogue. In the end this will keep your customers informed, show that you’re open for feedback and most importantly make them feel loved.


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