Conversation


Time is On Our SideThings are happening fast. I mean freaky fast. News stories are being broadcasted  to the internet via flip phones, protests are being organized on Twitter in minutes, and I’m watching it all happen right in front of me on the computer. AND let’s not get started with Google’s new speedy search tool Google Instant. By predicting your search and showing results before you finish typing, Google Instant can save 2-5 seconds per search. I guess I can’t waste time on Google anymore. Now I feel bad college kids, this will totally messed up their procrastination clock.  Kidding, this is amazing technology. A little annoying but amazing.

This new “internet time” has companies on edge. Let’s go back to Twitter, the microblogging site that allows users to send and receive 140-character-long messages services from their phones. I finally gave in to the spreading Twitter epidemic and opened an account (my only hesitation was I didn’t have a Smartphone. I know, soo 2002.). I started following Oakley, one of my favorite brands. I looked down at past entries and Oakley had responded in real-time to complaining Twitter users but more importantly, to complaining customers. Below you can see the complaints on the left and Oakley’s responds on the right.

Oakley Tweets

Speed becomes not only a competitive advantage but also a strategic necessity. The more quickly businesses can adjust to customers’ actions and desires––the more quickly they can learn from them and try to stay ahead of them–– the better business will be.

Jeff Jarvis is spot on and Oakley is the perfect example. Mobs can form in a flash and so can fans. While most companies and individuals use Twitter as an extension of their brand, some still haven’t quite nailed how to use Twitter. Ad Maverick, Josh Fleming explains the Top Ten Reasons You #Fail At Twitter. Don’t worry, I’m still working out the kinks but learning google-fast. The internet has caused us to lose control many things: brands, reviews, secrets, relationships with advertisers, price settings, and now TIME.

Pressure to respond is higher than ever. Companies feel the need to give information out to the demanding public in a seconds notice.  I see no problem with this as long as the quality of fact-checking doesn’t  decrease.  Bogus speedy responses like BP’s junk shot technique to clog the oil leak with a golf ball, rubber particles, and hair… then I think Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House energy committee investigating the oil spill, said it perfectly to CBS’s Meet the Press interview,

I have no confidence whatsoever in BP. I think that they do not know what they are doing. They started off talking about golf balls going in as a junk shot. People thought they would be dependent on MIT or Cal Tech instead of the PGA and golf balls…

Key word in Rep. Ed Markey quote, no confidence. I hope we all just breathe, think and then respond. Even if the clock is ticking.

Negative comments Brings Bad PR and ImageBlogging. There are many advantages from blogging for people, organizations, politicians, and of course businesses. Just reading a blog is beneficial. We are all critics now. The blogosphere is at sea level. No credentials or certifications here. Granted, your average Joe neighbor blogging has its advantages and disadvantages too. However, the importance behind blogging is that every voice is heard. From the CEOs of the powerful Fortune 500 companies to the stay-at-home mom (or dad) talking about issues that others want to hear.

Strategic research analysts worship this feedback. Each forum is a focus group. Each Facebook Fan Page is a corporate message board. Every sentence typed can be represented in dollar signs. It’s raw and uncensored information for people and businesses, but only if they want to listen (See my post Gut Feelings Vs. Wikinomics Mashup: The New Traditional ways of Business on how companies can harness these Intellectual Properties for a competitive edge).

But it’s even more beneficial when we participate in the conversation.   For example, let’s take a look at my mother’s recent PR fiasco. But before we do I need to fill you  in on some background information.

My mother and step dad, Dan decided to restore Santillane, an old Greek revival historic house. With plans in turning it into a special events venue and a bed and breakfast, we had a lot of work to do.

After five years, the restoration was complete. The project was a bear to say the least.

Since then, my mother runs a successful business, booking almost every weekend with an event. Before the Santillane business, my mother worked for the local public school system in Roanoke, Virginia as Director of Public Relations and Community Relations.  Jumping back into PR work for her new business different. Retirement must have stunted her growth with new technology, the new relationship, and social media basics.

Sorry mom if your reading, but you know it’s true.

Old ways of communications were gone but thank goodness that she had a son majoring corporate communications (I think that is what she would say). With a new website, Facebook Fan Page, and becoming a part of B&B networks, I thought I set her pretty well…until I GOOGLED her business.

There it was, a negative comment and review of her business. Not too high in the PageRank search results but still on the first page:

Rotten Google Juice

OH shoot. I immediately called my mom and email her the link. I checked the Santillane Fan Page to find another bad review. Is it the same person, I don’t know? But what I do know is what Jeff Jarvis said…

Your customers are your ad agency.

This might be one occurrence or maybe the overall attitude of Santillane. Let’s not take any risks because if one customer took their time to write an review Santillane in a bad light, then think of all the others that didn’t want to waste their time that might feel the same way.  On the flip side, think about the satisfied customers that probably didn’t write a review with the  “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. Either way, let’s start listening to become a better business.  Here are three things I try to keep in mind when dealing with negative comments:

  1. Knowing your mistakes and flaws will make our company stronger, only if you act upon them. Let your public know you are working hard to improve troubling areas.
  2. Not responding can possibly lead to more irritation to your publics. Each situation is unique.
  3. Remember, a negative comment is still feedback so don’t get caught up in the moment and respond irrationally. Kill them with kindness; catch more bees with honey than vinegar (but not over the top).

Solving Santillane’s Image and Reputation Problem

  • Let your customers do the talking. Direct past and future customers to review sites to rate your venue and services. Astroturfing isn’t the way to fix a bad online reputation.
  • Create a survey after an event has past.  Attached PDF with radio button forms are great way to get feedback and are user-friendly.
  • Show them change. It’s one thing to listen but it’s another to act AND don’t  just talk about changing. Show them change because that’s ultimately what they want to see.
  • Monitor your connecting networks with a better eye. Google your self as if you were searching for your business. What’s being said and are you a part of the conversation?

Are you wondering where your audience is online? At this very minute, someone is striking up a conversation about  your company. The real question is are you involved? Some companies have started to take note where they are mentioned and continue to build off these relationships. Continuing on Brain Solis Conversation Prism model below, social media has become a large spectrum of outlets used to reach a vast range of audiences.  Companies have jumped into this large Web of social media but have they gotten tangled up  along the way.

Brain Solis, President of Futureworks, tells us a way to maximize our  flow of information and the positive advantages of packaging together a social media release. Listen.

The connectivity through links online funnels people to read more in depth by the convenience of a click. Not only do you have information out of several platforms, but you have a way people can sift through all available information at once.  No pitch or selling here. Just the real story in the way influencers want to read it. More importantly, it can create a transparent and authentic conversation with others. Creditability shoot to the roof in social media press release. The more links in a story, the more the public begins to trust you and or company.

PR practitioners have rightly got a bad wrap for spamming the people. The spinning stops here.  Social media press release or SMPR is the way PR practitioners can clean up their wrap and start engaging your companies target markets. Here is a simple free template to download I found online by Shift Communication outlining the essentials inside a SMPR. Time to engage.

Picture Source: Ragan PR Daily

For the past two months I have been asking myself, why do we use social media? The answer is to create conversation, and hopefully one that is transparent. Social media leader, Brian Solis and creative agency JESS3 have brilliantly created an improved version a Web 2.0 Conversation Prism. The Conversation Prism has several different layers to represent the “expansiveness of Social Web and the conversations that define it.”  Solis points out that transparency serves various forms of both genuine and hollow, which are separated by their purpose and impression. Relationships are measured in the value, action, and attitude that others take away from each conversation.  Transparency and authenticity of each conversation will ultimately bring information and solutions to others.

Maybe it was implied in Solis’ model, but what makes everything work together is trust. We trust that all users, companies, organizations, and bloggers, will “honor the trust they have been given.”  Web 2.0 needs a guide of ethics so what is published online can be seen as transparent, and making brands truly authentic.

We have become more trusting over time, relying on information based on relevance and how accessible they are to find instead of trustworthiness. The day we do not have to keep our guard up when entering a conversation is the day true transparency has arrived. We have learned through others that social media can be the breeding ground of truth or the contagious spreading area of lies and dishonesty. No, I haven’t become a pessimist of Web 2.0. I just think that before anyone enters a conversation we all should look at it with cautious eyes and hope what we see is the truth. Authenticity will follow right behind.