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Don’t Fear the Comments

“Any publicity is good publicity.”

This used to be a universally accepted truth. As long as people were talking about you, you could reap benefits from the attention. That was when opinion was spread mainly by traditional media: television, radio, print, and good old fashioned word of mouth. Things are different now. The exponential growth of the social media sphere, the potential for hundreds of thousands of consumers to connect and comment on your company, content or service, and the struggle for eyeballs, impressions and search engine rankings, have all combined to make negative public opinion a death knell for companies on the Internet. One dissatisfied user with a Twitter account could bring your company to its knees. Right?

Maybe not.

Last week we had a project kickoff meeting — a redesign for a non-profit organization. The project manager is quite social media savvy and already relies heavily on Facebook to communicate with his organization’s fans. We were discussing the various ways to integrate Facebook into the site, and the possibility of using both the “Like” Button and Facebook Comment widgets was broached. One person cautioned against using the Comment widget on the site, because “you can’t control what people are going to say.” To which the client responded with a great story.

[note: in the spirit of confidentiality, company names will not be mentioned here]

Recently they posted an announcement on Facebook, thanking one of their partners for volunteering for an event. The partner happened to be a large financial entity that has sustained quite a bit of negative press lately. One of the client’s Friends decided to make a derisive comment on the Facebook post implying that the partner in question was just using this opportunity to get some positive spin. It’s the kind of comment that could easily have sparked a heated discussion, possibly a flamewar, and could have been a big headache for our client.

Did he go into full damage control mode? Did he delete the comment, or pull out the banhammer? No. Instead he replied to the Friend with a thoughtful and measured response, indicating that it was not just about this one particular partner, but about all the volunteers, individual and corporate, who give up their time and labor to help the organization. The Friend responded in turn… by apologizing, and requesting a link to get information on volunteering!

The moral of the story is that even though you can’t control what people are going to say in a public forum about your company, you can control what you say, and you can change their opinions. DON’T get defensive; DON’T blindly repeat the party line; DO have a conversation. Your Friends, Fans and Followers are more than consumers. They are your critics and your supporters. Treat them well and they’ll return the favor.