Commentary

Two Golden Rules For Companies On Social Media

Social media is changing the world for the better.

I know this because of the conversation I have, over and over again, every time I run a social media workshop for companies. It starts with an honest and understandable question: "What if we get on Twitter and people say horrible things?"

For companies who aren't yet engaging with customers on social media, this is a worst-case scenario. People will be complaining, in public, and these complaints will be visible to everyone, and other people who see those complaints might not like us anymore, and then the good times will be over. Providing a soapbox on which our customers can advertise their dissatisfaction runs counter to every protective instinct we have.

The problem, of course, is that those complaints are already being aired online. Anyone upset enough to go to your Facebook page and tell you what they don't like is upset enough to tell their friends and followers in your absence. Staying off social media doesn't stop the problem; it merely removes the discomfort of having to deal with it. Being on social media at least gives you the chance to respond.

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And here's where the second question comes in: "What if we respond the wrong way? What if we say something stupid?"

On social media, we're afraid of the same things we were afraid of back in eighth grade: that people will be mean to us, and that we'll make fools of ourselves. For the most part, we've overcome these fears for our personal Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts; as companies, though, it's still the first day at a new school.

The good news is we're grownups now. We get a chance to do it again, and do it right. To allay those anxieties, I propose Two Golden Rules for Not Making Your Company Look Stupid on Social Media:

Rule 1: Act With Integrity

The first rule isn't about turning your company into a group of enlightened monks or save-the-world superheros. Integrity is about being consistent. It's about (to use a horrible consultant phrase) living up to the brand promise. It's about making sure that what you see is what you get.

Sometimes, what you see isn't peaceful, or wholesome, or spiritual -- and that's fine. But where companies get in trouble is when they pretend to be something they're not. SIGG found this out the hard way, when their "eco-friendly" water bottles turned out to have BPA in the liner.

Rule 2: Admit Your Mistakes We all mess up, especially on social media. But the optimal way to deal with a mistake is to admit it, take any steps necessary to correct the situation, and then move on.

A few years ago, Hugh MacLeod shared an email he'd filed under the category: "When It's Time To Bitchslap The Newbie." The message was a clumsy and overbearing link-exchange request; MacLeod was gracious enough to anonymize it and spare the sender visits from his readers (one commenter complained: "Aww, you should have given the url so readers can troll the crap out of it").

Imagine for a second you're the person who sent the email. Imagine you're seeing those responses, and imagine further that the original post doesn't mention your name or your company. What would you do? Me, I'd want to run for the hills -- after all, nobody knows who I am. The email's author, however, took a different tack, and left the following comment on the post:

 

Hugh - First of all, sorry for starting off on the wrong foot and creating a bad first impression with you and your readers. After more than 10 years in traditional media, we are learning this new way of talking and we're just taking our first steps. So thanks for not biting our heads off.

 

Secondly, a big thank you to the folks who commented - especially Rachel and Joaquin - for pointing out what we did wrong and how we can go about doing it right.

Like everyone else, we're learning as we do and your post is a lesson for us. And this time we've learned our lesson.

Cheers

Johnny Boston

CEO Raw Digital

 

Cheers to you, Johnny Boston. Well done for acting with integrity and admitting your mistakes. When more companies make that shift, the world will be a better place.

Do you believe social media is changing the world for the better? Let me know, in the comments or via @kcolbin.

4 comments about "Two Golden Rules For Companies On Social Media".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, April 6, 2010 at 4:33 p.m.

    I disagree that every business needs to be involved with social media. Fan pages and Twitter accounts for Global 1000 companies will never move the sales needle. Nabisco has a fan page for cookies. Nabisco sells to 250 million people in the US and they get 500 people liking their Fan Page posts and 100 commenting. It might as well be zero. Though having the feed back is nice. Nestle had no need for a fan page. And as was seen with Nestle it was not until they created a fan page that the Greenpeace attacks actually had any effect or made the news. If they had never created that page ALMOST NO ONE would of known Greenpeace had an issue with them. I sure didn't and I am a greenie environmentalist. I follow PETA and Greenpeace on twitter and still had no idea. Though I had my own issues with them over bottled water.

    So in reality traditional marketing still rules for large businesses, while small businesses can take advantage of Social Media to market almost for free when starting out.

  2. Vicki Monti from Kisseo.com, April 7, 2010 at 6:45 a.m.

    Glad to see you're now writing for Social Media Insider! I always enjoy your Search Insider columns and was hoping you'd start writing about social media as well. Very exciting!

  3. Ashley Hedlund, April 15, 2010 at 5:17 p.m.

    Social media allows companies to be a part of the conversation and decision-making process. Although I see your point about the number of Nabisco's fans versus their sales, I still feel it is important for Nabisco to have a presence on social media sites.

    There's more about fan pages here: http://bit.ly/K1UmN

    The fact that search engines are displaying real-time and social search results confirms that companies should not only have a presence on active social networking sites, but should also be optimizing the content that they are distributing.

  4. Jenna Zizzo from Bulbstorm, May 5, 2010 at 3:56 p.m.

    I think that social media is definitely changing the world for the better. Here at Bulbstorm (www.bulbstorm.com), a tech startup based on Phoenix, we use the Facebook applications we develop to encourage users to submit ideas on how to improve certain aspects of society. For example, we currently have two different challenges running through our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/bulbstorm). The first is a healthcare challenge, where fans can submit their solution for "fixing" the healthcare system for a chance to earn points and win health-related prizes. A second challenge we're running asks fans to submit their idea for living a green lifestyle, again for a chance to win eco-friendly prizes.

    These are only two ways in which one company is using social media to improve the world for the better. Social media is here to stay, so one can only anticipate the many other innovative ways it will help change the world in the future.

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