One of the great paralyzing fears for advertisers considering social media strategies is the potential for blowback in the form of negative comments from consumers in the very spaces intended to promote a product or service. The usual response from digital media types -- "they're going to be saying these things about you anyway, so you might as well get involved" -- is inarguable, but scarcely reassuring without pointers for how to deal with such situations. To fill this methodological gap, Econsultancy and bigmouthmedia's recent "Social Media and Online PR Report" offers some suggestions for damage control based on a survey of 344 advertisers already operating in social media in the UK, Europe, and North America.
As one might expect, there is no magic bullet for countering negative comments: the two most popular responses were directly engaging the commenter, a tactic used by 47% of social media advertisers surveyed, and improving the quality of products or services being advertised, according to 33% of respondents.
Aside from these commonsensical but labor-intensive propositions, what other short-term fixes can online advertisers employ in dealing with negative comments? One strategy is neutralizing the negative comment, either by encouraging other consumers to leave positive comments (24%) or attempting to get the content removed by the publisher or blogger (14%).
On the other hand, the report warns that the medium's inherent transparency makes these sorts of manipulative tactics dangerous, increasing the risk for negative publicity if they are discovered. A less risky short-term strategy endorsed by 17% of respondents is issuing a press release or official statement addressing the issues raised in negative comments.
It's worth noting that none of these suggestions are mutually exclusive, and may be more effective when employed in concert: for example, social media marketers have pointed out that issuing a press release without engaging the consumer who actually made the negative comment leaves advertisers open to charges of insincerity, indifference, and flat-out incompetence.
When it comes to tracking online sentiment, 47% of respondents said they use Twitter for "brand monitoring," while 27% use the site for responding to customer service issues, 25% use it to gather customer feedback, and 23% use it for market intelligence. Thirty-four percent of companies surveyed said they responded to negative tweets "systematically."
Twitter is even more popular as a channel for publicizing new content, with 62% of respondents saying they used it for that purpose. Only 14% of respondents reported using Twitter as a sales channel, and 21% said they didn't use it for any of the purposes listed above.