Loving Your Haters: Embracing Negativity on The Social Web, Part One

Good job, your brand is at the point where it’s getting noticed on the social web. Hits are coming in to your destination web site. Your “Attention”:http://blog.compete.com/2007/02/05/compete-attention-200/ metric is surging.

Hold it. Don’t get over-excited. With growth comes negative reactions too. So what to do? It might be contrary to human nature and your first gut response, but you need to embrace the negativity and use it to push your brand.

Yeah, I know, you just read that intro paragraph (or maybe right from the blog post title) and you’re thinking that this topic has been covered and recovered. In fact, you thought, “You’re late to the party. I’ve heard this all before.” Taking it back to the roots of basic public relations strategy, embracing bad press isn’t a new or novel idea. However, what’s new are the tactics to do this that incorporate social web strategy. In this post I provide 3 keys to get you started towards fully embracing your negative coverage.

h1. Let’s begin with some basics.

You don’t want to ignore the bad press. “There are reasons already said why not to ignore bad press”:http://www.shoemoney.com/2008/02/21/why-you-should-embrace-negative-press/ and I won’t regurgitate them here. The salient theme of these reasons is that you’re blessed with an *opportunity*. Yes, an opportunity to shed light in the darkness, to convert haters to lovers, and most importantly, to make *more money*. Also, there’s more to it than not just ignoring the bad press, you don’t want to make a bad situation worse. That is to say, you don’t want to fan the flames and torch your brand online.

h2. Key #1: Don’t get asked, “Why doesn’t your site allow (negative) feedback?”

If your company website doesn’t allow feedback (even positive feedback) you’ve got catching up to do. Like most brands out there, if your brand’s collateral includes a feedback page or section that is censored for positive comments/reviews/response, you’re getting warmer but you still *don’t* really have it. You need to include the negative! In fact, I would go one step further and place a heading or side panel disclaimer that states the following:

“We here at [your company] wish to provide you with honest and real feedback from customers. We’ve included the good with the bad. We might have altered or adjusted some comments to keep this webpage viewable for all audiences (besides, our mothers don’t appreciate curse words and sexual references), but we DO NOT censor the sentiment.”

It might help you to think about why the feedback must be contained (rather than externally linked or referenced) on your site.

Normal consumers have a very simple research methodology. They do a search of the product name or brand using Google and/or Wikipedia. Either way, they make a short path to the company’s own online collateral or their destination website.

In doing so, they look to the company’s collateral as the hub for *everything* about that brand. It frankly frustrates customers to have to look at external review sites for information about a product. Also, when customers find this hard-to-locate feedback information, they’re often disappointed that they wasted their time if all the feedback is obviously screened/filtered/censored to only include positive reviews.

If your brand can’t overcome consumer skepticism on a review page, then what’s the point. (And don’t take it from me that the “humble product review”:http://adage.com/digital/article?article_id=137634 never really went away as an important marketing tool in CPG).

But I digress, let’s get back to the idea of an *uncensored* product (or service) review page on your brand’s own website. This is not the time to be passive. You should have a reaction to each and every (or as many as possible) feedback entry.

Your reaction to the positive feedback is simple and appreciative. An example: “Great! We love that you love our product. Don’t forget that we also have these flavors too [link to up-sell them or promote new products].”

Your reaction to the negative feedback is also simple and appreciative. An example: “We want you to enjoy our product, so it’s sad to hear you had anything less than a satisfactory experience. You might not have enjoyed the [low-end product], so maybe try the [premium product] because it’s contains different advantages and benefits [than top-quality item]. Nevertheless, we appreciate your comments.”

Notice a couple of things in the suggested responses above.

* You want to show you actually *read* the response (automated responses are empty and pathetic).
* You want to use the opportunity as a chance to give the reader another call-to-action.
* You don’t want to argue. Instead, you want to persuade the customer agree they should give your brand another shot.
* You could get a chance to admit your company made a mistake. Take it. There’s something that consumers like (humility?) when a brand admits that it’s fallible.
* Admit the wrong by saying that you faulted and that you already addressed the problem or that you are in the process of doing so.

To be continued tomorrow in Part II.

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