How many times have you reached into your fridge, grabbed the lunch meat, tried to remember when you bought it, suspiciously check the expiration date, carefully looked it over to make sure there were no spots on it and smelled it to make sure it was not emitting some funky odour before slapping it on that delicious sandwich you were making? I’ll bet you the answer is lots!
Food has a best before date and apparently anything that has a shelf life of under 90 days is required to have one. The best before date is another way of saying, durable life date. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency describes it as:
- “Durable life” means the anticipated amount of time that an unopened food product, when stored under appropriate conditions, will retain its
- nutritional value, or
- any other qualities claimed by the manufacturer.
- A “best-before” date, also known as a “durable life date”, tells you when this durable life period ends.
- This information is usually found on the label with the words “best before” and “meilleur avant.”
- “Best before” dates do not guarantee product safety. However, they do give you information about the freshness and potential shelf-life of the unopened foods you are buying.
Does your brand have a “best before date” for the conflict it’s dealing with online?
Potential conflict situations also have a best before date. It’s that moment when a customer or client has a complaint, when you think your sending a tweet from your personal account but it goes out over the company’s account, when you over-promise and under-deliver and many much more. It’s that moment before the “geekalance” explodes and a full blown crisis hits. It’s the calm before the storm and it’s full of opportunities for your brand.
I’ve said this before, and it couldn’t be more true; Conflict on its own is neither negative nor positive, but how we deal with it will determine its outcome. Your brand’s best before date is full of opportunity for you to manage how you respond, act and serve the issue at-hand.
Best Before Dates Do Not Guarantee Product Safety
I love that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency highlights this in their definition of a best before date. Simply responding to a complaint on Twitter or Facebook does not guarantee you not getting slammed, especially if you’re going to give them a standard response that shows no personality or a ‘press-release’ response. That could actually make matters worse. The best before date for brands actually has a lot to do with timing, the information that you are posting or the questions that are being asked of you, gathering information on the complainant, understanding their intent, what they are actually looking for, and looking at the urgency of the situation.
When thinking about your brand’s best before date for any conflict, here are some things that will help you assess what actions need to take place next;
1. Do you understand the situation? – Make sure you know what your commenter’s actual issue is. Put on that listening hat and if you need more clarification ask questions or look into the situation.
2. Is this venting or legitimate? – Again, put on that listening hat and make sure that you understand the difference between a person leaving comments who is merely blowing off some steam to a person who has a legitimate concern, comment or question.
3. Have the answers – Don’t know the answer to a question? Go and ask someone! If it’s going to take a little while to grab that answer for a person, make sure you let them know and then follow up with the answer. Make sure people feel heard.
4. Prioritize, Prioritize – Don’t spend all day on a comment that you’ve addressed a million times before when you have others complaining about your product injuring someone. Make sure you are prioritizing your comments from customers and clients while keeping an ear to the ground for potential land mines.
5. Respond. – A response can do a lot for a situation. Many people just need to feel that they’ve been heard. Even if you feel it’s a relatively “small” complaint or issue that the person is feeling. Don’t respond in your legalistic voice though, use the one that you have developed for your brand. Stay in character.
6. Communicate – Communicate with your team, your manager, people across silos. See a potential conflict brewing? Let them know, get their opinions, and then respond in your brand’s voice.
Sure, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a good starting point for your brand to start thinking about what how they can begin to avoid landing a spot on the 6-O’clock news and in UnMarketing’s next book.
Let me just start by saying that conflict is neutral. It doesn’t pick sides. Sure, there is good conflict and there is bad conflict, but ultimately conflict is neutral. What determines its outcome is not the conflict in and of itself, but rather how we react to it. If we react to the situation well, it will likely turn out well, and, of course, if we don’t react well, it will not turn out so well.
Social media has taken these decision processes to a new level. When social media rears its ugly head, companies still have those same two options, but they are now on a grander scale with a bigger audience. Back in the day (relax…only a few years ago) companies could commercial and advertise their way out of a situation. They would take their time, consult their PR firms, lawyers, board, executive staff and then put out TV commercials, billboards, and radio ads to market their way out of the situation. Now companies no longer have a few weeks to do this, now they must figure out what they are going to do in a matter of days and hours.
Let’s look at a quick example. Sure it’s an older one, but it perfectly illustrates my point.
We have a mis-tweet. We have a conflict. Chrysler (well…the company they hired) messed up. Before this tweet, as I’m sure you can imagine, the company was building their brand. They were talking in a human voice, connecting to their audience and building their community. Then they screwed up, pissed off their community (and many others) and retreated with their tail between their legs. They quickly consulted with their PR firms, lawyers, and whomever else they could get a hold of and put out this response:
So what happened here? Here’s a mistake that many, many businesses are making. They went from humanizing their brand, developing their voice and their community, to slapping their community in the face and poking them in the eye with a “press release” response. They don’t take responsibility, don’t give a further explanation, and it looks like their legal team wrote the tweet. Except it didn’t stop there! They wrote a blog post to continue the assault on their community by stomping on their feet and kneeing them in the groin.
Why Press Release Responses Are No Longer Acceptable
In a world where brands are desperately trying to find their voice online, interact with and build a community to sell more products, the second they see a potential issue or conflict they revert into their old ways. The press release. “Let’s lawyer the shit out of this so we can protect ourselves from any potential lawsuits”, is what that says to me and people aren’t buying it anymore. Here’s the thing with humanization; If you want to be a brand that interacts with people and have a personality, you can’t just ditch it at the first sight of conflict. It hurts your community, it hurts your reputation, it hurts your brand. This Chrysler situation happened roughly a year ago, and many people can still remember the incident vividly. This past year I bought a car, you know what dealership I didn’t even bother visiting? That’s right! It left the taste of blood in my mouth and I lost a lot of respect for them.
Think of any one of your relationships…what would happen if you screwed something up? Would you go and apologize? Maybe take responsibility? Talk with them to see how you could fix it? Or would you talk to a lawyer and read them a wonderfully put together press release?
To me it’s a no brainer, what do you think?
All Publicity is Good Publicity Right?
Many people would have you believe that all publicity is good publicity. Sure it may get you in the news, it might even get you on television or get you a lot of “buzz” on your favourite social media site. That’s good right? Yep, it’s really good…if your goal was to get slapped three ways from Sunday!
I just read a recent post from Gini Dietrich of Arment Dietrich called Is All Publicity Good? Go ahead and read it for a second, I’ll wait right here. You back? Alright, here’s one part in particular that caught my attention;
Sure, not all news will be good news. Even the best companies will have some negative things written about them, but it’s in how you respond that makes, or breaks, the game.
This is the other part that caught my attention in the comment section
You Can’t Contain Shit Hitting The Fan
Have you ever seen shit hit the fan? It’s not a pretty sight, and it’s a mess to clean to up. It takes all hands on deck, a great plan, communication between said shit cleaners, and you can’t be afraid to put your hand in the crap.
If that’s the kind of planning that needs to go into cleaning up feces hitting a fan, shouldn’t your company be doing more to manage their brand? Here are a few things to think about before you have to clean up your next shit storm;
- If you build it they will come: Alright, that may not be true, but here’s my point with this one…you need to be purposely building a strong community. The stronger the relationship between your brand and your community, the more willing they are to “go-to-bat” for you, the more receptive they will be towards your explanation of your screw up, the more willing they will be to accept your apology. Why? Because they trust you because you have done the same for them. Yes, you will need to re-build the trust that you wrecked, but if there was no trust to begin with, the gloves are really going to come off!
- Have a crisis plan: Please, please, please, have a plan set in place! A plan can act as your map as you steer through the muddy waters.
- Do a fire drill: Sure, having a plan is good, but if you’re not sure how it works, you need to test it out! That’s the whole reason we have fire drills right? If a crisis hits, you should know what to do and how to approach it, you should know to stop, drop, and roll! If you have no idea of where to stop read Jeremey Owyang’s post
- Monitor and Listen: I say both monitoring and listening because I view them as two very different things (which I’ll explain another day). Keep your ear to the ground and listen to the chatter, engage, ask questions, find out what the underlying problem is. Just don’t give away the farm!
- Timing is everything: Because you’ve been monitoring you know what’s been happening. Don’t wait to long to respond or it may be too late to mitigate some of the damages.
- Take Responsibility: Own what’s yours. If your brand caused someone else hardship, own it. If they screwed up someone’s bill, own it. I don’t care what it is…this is part of that trust building that we were talking about earlier. Own what’s yours and apologize accordingly.
- It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it: It’s not always the message of what you are saying when you apologize, respond, or issue a statement. It’s how your saying it. Look at the tone of the message, look at it’s surroundings, keep in mind; No one can hear you say it.
Your turn: Do you think all publicity is good publicity? How do you “contain” it? Is it even possible?
Go to Google Search and write a query about something at the heart of your business. What shows up on the Google results page? Is it fresh, relevant content that draws readers to your company’s field of expertise?
Today’s consumers want value content. They may not even care as much about the source of that content. They just want helpful information. You probably know a company who is doing just that; continuously providing you with helpful information. They have your attention. They are good brand managers.
Whether you are a private, not-for-profit, or public sector company, what’s stopping you from creating and sharing the great content that consumers, and your potential customers, crave?
Relationships built on value content
I respond less and less to the marketing hard sell. I bet the same goes for you, too.
I do respond, though, to individuals and businesses who continuously offer me content that is fresh and relevant to my world. And usually I’m looking for and finding that content online.
That’s why I follow people like Michael Sliwinski (@michaelnozbe). He not only delivers a popular project management application product, he also generates regular and engaging content, “how to” type videos on internet productivity, thereby building trust and brand.
The relationship between company and media
In a feature article about brand journalism in last weekend’s Globe and Mail, Ira Basen says “today’s consumer is looking for helpful information that will help them do something better in their jobs or live better lives, and corporations can provide that just as well as media companies.”
Why leave good content outside of your company’s control? Better to generate within. Give consumers value content. You don’t have to push it down their throats. Leave the pushy marketing stuff out. Pull them in to your brand; whether you’re a telecom, a community non-profit, a government agency, etc.
Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe), founder of the Content Marketing Institute, believes every company should be its own publishing company, its’ own media company. Pulizzi and others have drafted a job description for a Chief Content Officer, to serve as a template for the executive tasked with managing the intersection between marketing, journalism and content.
Brand content management
Most of us handpick who we pay attention to. We choose. To what extent does the source of good content matter? For me, there has to be some match to my value set. Does it have to be a 100% match? No it doesn’t. And, for sure, that’s the sentiment of many (most?) young people, today.
The relevance of content source is a paradox. Being a mediator, I welcome paradox. On the one hand we may love how helpful the information is. On the other hand, we may feel less certain about the source of that content? Are their business objectives for sharing that content authentic? Certainly, transparency of intent counts. We are then more likely to accept those “engaging narratives” that show the brand in a good light.
Working with the yin yang of brand content management…
Taking ownership of content, making it regular, fresh, relevant and easily accessible, (all of which Google rewards) is a positive way to build relationships and your brand’s image.
How are you using content to attract people to your company, and what you and your brand stand for?
photo credit: pinksherbet on flickr
Back in the days of high school I got to learn a form of kick-boxing in one of my gym classes from the world-class fighter Jeff Joslin. We learned how to punch, how to kick, so great grabs and holds, but also some great moves to get out of various grabs and holds. As a pip-squeak grade nine’er I was pretty amped up that I learned all these awesome ways to defend myself (and in one class!) and was excited to start trying them out. So because I’m so manly, I went home to practice these new moves on someone smaller then me… my sister. I, of course, immediately moved in on the weakest of the pack, my youngest sister, and tried out some of these new power moves. Before long, I had received an elbow blow to my eye and it began to swell. Yep, she gave me a black eye. So much for my fighting career. You can imagine how the next day at school went.
Research in Motion (RIM), currently has a black eye. They learned some new moves that they thought were pretty cool and right away tried them out. Some might say they walked away with a black eye, or possibly even more severely, with a broken leg or even worse. Regardless to say, RIM’s not doing so well right now. Seemingly, every time you read the newspaper there is another article about the death of RIM. Their losing money every quarter, upper-management changes, job losses, product delays, every day it’s something new. People are predicting the end of RIM in one way, shape, or form.
Sure, they still have their advocates (#TeamBlackBerry) and supporters, but they have acquired quite the out-spoken group of dis-believers and haters. It’s not looking good for them, or is it?
RIM has opportunity coming out the yin-yang right now
No, I’m not talking about licensing out patents or selling for a bajillion dollars to some other organization. RIM has conflict, and it could save them, it all depends on how they engage it. How do you know you have haters? Dis-believers? People who don’t really like you? Because they talk about it! They talk about it with their friends, they talk about it on their blog, they talk on Twitter, Facebook, and all those other sites. They are voicing their opinion which is creating a huge opportunity for RIM (or any brand/organization with haters) to open a conversation with them.
Conflict on its own is neither good nor bad, but how we deal with it will determine its outcome.
Conflict is a huge opportunity for companies to make a switch, define their identity, get those creative juices flowing, build community, deepen relationships and sell some serious shit (sorry…I grew up in a farming community). That’s right, you can’t do any of these things very well without beginning to engage with conflict. In a world of humanizing business in the social space, companies have opportunities like never before, and it’s called engagement. They are able to address people’s concerns, have conversations, have a personality and much, much more. One aspect of humanizing brands that companies too often forget is that they are now able to engage with conflict and turn those conflict situations into creative solutions.
It Starts Internally
That next day in high school I made sure to wear a ball cap…really low as to hopefully cover my eye. Yep, you guessed it, it didn’t work. Not long after walking into the building the comments were flying around and I was trying to explain the situation. I tried to make up some stories as to how my eye got to be the way it was, you know the type; “You should see the other guy,” or “I fell 20 feet and only ended up with this,” those kind of macho stories, but people saw right through them. I had a few options; I could run away from it all, I could throw back some fighting words, I could do nothing, or I could carry on, engage with the comments and move forward. Here’s what helped my situation, I started internally. I asked myself some tough questions and had some tough conversations with myself (yes…I talk to myself). Here are 5 things you need to think of internally before you can start engaging externally:
- You need to know who you are – what makes you tick?
- You need to be able to laugh at yourself – You’re not perfect right?
- Know what you’re good at – we’re all good at something
- Know what you suck at – we can’t do everything
- Know what you can improve on – good ‘ol works in progress
When you’re backed into a corner like our friends at RIM, you need to address what’s happening internally before you can begin to address the external. Once you begin that conversation, that will allow you to have the information to answer the questions that are happening from the external world so you can offer the haters explanations, jokes, a transparent conversation, maybe even an apology to those you’ve dropped the ball on (if necessary). Use that conflict to create a conversation and you’ll see the haters as people and be able to alter their negative passion and turn them into being a member of #TeamBlackBerry. By knowing who you are, you can begin to fuel the conversation, address the issues that people are having and use conflict as a part of your brand and marketing strategy.
“Whenever you are in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” – William James
What do you think? Where do you think brands should begin engaging with conflict? Internally or Externally? Why?
The most important use social media is for managing customer relationships. That’s the word that came down in the recent study from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte. Their 2012 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project surveyed almost 3,500 executives from 115 countries.
A series of questions were popped to the survey respondents, ranging from front-line supervisors to CEO types. Here’s the question that put customer relationships at the top of the list…
The larger companies surveyed tended to be technology-oriented, hence the term “social software” . Yet, substitute ‘social software’ with ‘social media’ and you get the message. Though the question had a shorter-term horizon in mind (two years), it matters, especially given technology is such an accelerant for change.
Relationships are the key to success
In my experience (similar to yours?) brokering conflict, relationships always seem to play a part. And more often than not, it’s a relationship turned sour that’s at the heart of the conflict. Content is not king.
Building on the study findings, here’s how I see organizations can move forward on the relationship front, and constructively engage conflict when it happens in social forums:
- Focus on collaborative relationships: Business sustainability is linked to long-term relationships. Understand and communicate the value of good collaborative relationships with your customers.
- Put social media to work as a relationship builder: Social media is changing the business landscape, and the dynamics of how you relate with your customers. You don’t need to sacrifice the organization to work with social media. Take it slow if you want. Just take it. “You may be overestimating the amount of effort it takes to start putting this (social media) trend to work for your organization today” (MIT professor Alex Pentland).
- Walk to your talk: “The biggest determinants, by far, of whether you will be successful at social business are leadership and culture.” (Charlene Li) Train, train, train. Support/train your employees, especially front-line workers, in their personal journeys to be customer-focused. Imagine how social media and customer conflict might impact your organization three years from now. Prepare yourself and your people accordingly. Good relationship habits take time to develop.
More items of interest
Though not a lot surprised me in the survey report, here’s a few points I think worth highlighting:
- Mid-size companies are in limbo when it comes to social media? “With social tools, small companies are demonstrating that they can appear larger than their actual size; large companies can appear less like corporate behemoths. Midsize companies see the advantages of social tools but, in general, do not see themselves exploiting these advantages for another few years.”
- Chief Information Officers (CIOs) can be terrified of social media. One reason is it is a data security nightmare. The previous generation of CIOs lived and died control. Social is the opposite.
- Social business helps avoid marketing myopia (customer demand has changed and the company isn’t picking up on the cues) in at least 2 ways: 1) use members of an online community to identify shifts in customer preferences and 2) sentiment analysis; e.g., analyze Twitter streams or activity in your online communities, and see the trend.
- “Before you might hear problems with the brand or product through a 1-800 number or complaints or warranty issues… now it is coming from the product development function or listening to what is happening online.”
- Build social relationships on a platform that they (community/employees) are already on and that they know and love; e.g., Facebook. Just go with the flow?
And you… what are you learning about customer relationships in your social business journeys? Please share your insights in the comments.
I used to work in a drop-in center where the occasional fight would break out. One dude would say something negative to another dude, who would counter with a comment and a heated exchange was under way. If it got heated enough, fists would fly and the fight was on.
Those days remind me of situations on social media. Someone says an off comment, someone else reacts to that comment, and we have ourselves a good ‘ol fashion fist fight that’s public for everyone. It happens with people, businesses, and yes even between brands/organizations and their consumers.
When I was at the drop-in center for these situations, one of the first thing we would do is remove the audience. Get the people not involved in the altercation out of the room so that they wouldn’t get hurt, but also so they wouldn’t choose sides and get involved. This (mostly) de-escalated the people who were in the fight because they no longer had to posture and defend their reputation because no one was watching. They could afford to be a bit more vulnerable in the situation.
This is also what brands do when they are trying to de-escalate a potential problem. They take it off-line, or at very least out of the public eye. If you look at many brands twitter feeds (for example) you’ll see a sleuth of tweets to their customers to DM them or asking the customer to follow them so that the brand can DM the customer. They are taking the conflict out of the public eye to attempt to deal with the issue, keep the customer satisfied, and show that they are listening to their complaints with hopes of making it a good interaction.
Don’t get me wrong, I think that it’s great that brands do this. I think it’s great that they are beginning to listen to their customers and starting to address the issues where their customers are. Kudos on them, they are starting to get what it means to be humanized. They can always do better, but that’s not really what this is about. This is about taking conflict public.
Taking Conflict Public
Sure, it’s probably not a good idea all of the time. Especially if the specific issue is extremely personal to the customer or the situation is very unique, but there can be some crazy awesome benefits to dealing with conflict in the public eye. Take this quote for example that I pulled from Erika Napoletano’s (Red Head Writing) book The Power of Unpopular (See our short review of the book here):
“When you make your communications with the haters public and conduct yourself in a professional manner, people see that. Sure, there are plenty of things that you can deal with offline, and rightfully so, but something that’s worked well for us is being as open and honest as possible. Odds are that other people are going to have the same question or concern, so if we can show we’re not afraid to get asked and answer, that’s one of the best brand decisions we can make.” [Ariel Scott of GoodBelly]
Ariel hit the nail on the head. People like transparency. They like to feel heard. They like to see businesses being open and honest, which means they are not afraid to own up to their mistakes, apologize, or take a stand in what they believe to be true.
Here are 5 advantages of dealing with conflict in the public eye, in no particular order:
- Shows your customers that you are listening
- Shows transparency
- Builds rapport with people that read your responses
- Builds trust
- Keeps brands accountable
How about you? Do you agree? Disagree? What would you add to this list or take off the list?
Here’s the thing about love. We all want it. We all want to feel its comfy warmth, wrapped around us like our grandmother’s knitted socks, or freshly cleaned, air-dried sheets. We look for love everywhere we go; at the bar, church, strolling through the park, everywhere…but we still have our standards. Companies are all about the love too, they want to give love and receive love from their customers and clients. They too look for the love everywhere they can and let’s face it…they’re a little slutty. They’re looking for love from anyone and they have some low standards.
I just finished reading The Power of UnPopular written by Redhead Writing’s Erika Napoletano and to say the least, I’m impressed (If you don’t know about her, slap yourself with a wet pool noodle and then go to her website here). Erika’s book reads like she’s having a conversation with you and she offers you some no-bullshit, un-polished straight truths. If you’re looking for a book that strokes your ego or will give you a pat on the back…then watch your back, because this book may slap you in the face. Perhaps what I like best about the book is that all of her examples aren’t big named brands that you see in every book. They are the grass-root brands, ones that aren’t on the cover every magazine, but ones that truly understand their customers and what type of customer they are after.
So why am I talking about this on a site that deals with conflict? Because your brand deals with conflict, especially if you haven’t decided who your target audience is. You can’t be everything to everyone, so you need to know when to own up and address the conflict, and when to let it go (more on that later).
No matter what business you run, you will always have people that hate you. You will always be unpopular, so embrace it, enjoy it, and have fun with it. Whether your starting a company or already have one, this book is definitely something that you should be reading to both build your brand and establish a living community.
If you’ve already read the book, I would love to hear your comments about it. If you need the book, tell me why and maybe I’ll send you a copy!