Brand actions: Responding to social sentiment

How to respond to social media feedback

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In an age where brands are increasingly seen as shared, companies can easily be lulled into treating social media as polling booths for their strategy. That’s not a good idea. However, there are times when you should respond to what is being said. The secret is knowing what to respond to, when and how.

As a number of people including Paul Dunay have pointed out, we are increasingly obsessed with the numbers and interpret them as concrete facts when they are nothing of the sort. Not only are they the sentiment of the moment, even that sentiment is undefined. Dunay argues that “most people can’t agree on the spirit or intention of a tweet anyway and they never will”.

My view – read the numbers but be careful not to read too much into them. Instead look for trends that indicate you have something to act on or capitalise on. That’s because there can be a significant difference in sentiment, and therefore drivers, between those who buy a brand and those who comment on it. Ironically in looking to appease their critics and to compromise and tailor their offerings to suit, brands can risk becoming everything to no-one.

4 things every marketer needs to understand about social sentiment

“Critical mass” is my term for the reputational impact that many, many people can have when moving together, with purpose, towards a singular point of focus (your brand). That impact can last minutes, hours, days. It can generate smiles and business, or scandal and significant losses. It can transform people and brands into heroes or villains, celebrities or scandals.

  1. For scaled brands, the sentiment of critical mass represents your likeability in real time. No more. No less. Groupings are constantly forming, trending, dissolving and reforming on a global scale.
  2. Critical mass is not one constituency. Critical masses flock and disperse in response to ideas. People join, leave and link at whim.
  3. Social markets, just like their financial counterparts, are driven by sentiment and the interactions of many. Participation drives partiality and generates volatility. Some days your partiality will be up – meaning people generally feel good about you. At other times, the mass of opinion will be negative, impartial or absent. Same for your competitors.
  4. The density of the mass and its duration derives directly from the galvanising strength of the idea, the momentum it gathers, and the response of the brand.

Not sure whether to step up or step back?

If you’re not sure how to react to the sentiments that are being served up about your, I suggest you ask 4 questions:

  1. What are they reacting to?
  • If it’s an event, normally what people most want to know is what’s happening. They want to be kept in the loop.
  • If it’s a decision or a strategy, is there room for them to change their mind when more is revealed. If you are going to release more information, have a plan to do so, and tell people what information is coming and when.
  1. Have you done anything wrong?
  • If there is a problem – acknowledge, explain what’s happened succinctly, undertake to fix it, give a timeframe and thank people for their input.
  • If you have stuffed up, apologise.
  • If you have liabilities for actions, you’ll need legal advice, but sometimes acknowledgement and a sincere promise to listen and act will help halt bad feeling.
  1. If something adverse has happened, can you turn this round, or capitalise on it?

Janelle Barlow’s counsel that “a complaint is a gift” is worth remembering. People engage on an issue because they want something to change – for example, they may want less of it, more of it, or access to it. Take your signals from the answers to the first question.

  • If it’s an event – follow the advice in 2. Keep talking to people through the best channels you have available. And apologise for what happened or promise to do it again (whichever is appropriate)
  • If it’s a decision – explain yourself clearly, patiently and carefully. If there are opportunities for feedback or feed-in, identify what and when.
  • If it’s a strategy – point people to other material, explain how you landed on this approach, or give them a date when and where they can find out more.
  1. If it’s something people are excited by, can you add to how they feel?
  • If it’s an event, can you provide with a preview by way of a taster? Can you offer them “first-to-know” access via Twitter or Snapchat? Can you give them an access-all-areas pass, before or after, to see things they would never see otherwise.
  • If it’s a decision, can you get media coverage on what it means and where it might lead?
  • If it’s a strategy – see above. Same approach will work when people are intrigued.

Smalltalk can become bigtalk very quickly. Have an escalation plan in place to follow conversations as they develop and implement actions that prove you care, you’re involved and you’re listening to what the world is saying.

  1. Monitor what’s being said.
  2. Correct or encourage as required.
  3. If need be, have the right person step in, identify who they are and their authority to speak for the brand, and put your case.

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