The CEO and Social Media – A Tricky Walk

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CommentI recently worked with a large Vermont company to obtain a contract to manage social media for them.  One of the topics that came up repeatedly surrounded the ethics a public company faces when posed with less-than-flattering posts from trolls.  How do you handle it?

I had this question come up when I taught a seminar in Lake George where competition between hotels and B and B’s is fierce.  Many of them relayed stories about competitors posting negative reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor.  So what DO you do?  Is the response for a small hotel or BnB in Lake George different than what I would advise a large, publicly traded company?  Suddenly, my ethical compass was tied in a knot.  As I went sans sandwich or bathroom break and we were closing in on 6 hours of grilling, the magical question came up.

“If faced with a negative comment on our social media page, how would you handle it?” I was asked as my potential new client leaned forward.

“It depends.”  I said. “Is it a common problem that more than one person has posed?  If so, you may want to address it internally and then respond on your social media outlets.  But it needs to be communicated clearly internally so the message is well thought out before broadcasting on social media. However, don’t sit on it for a week – Social Media is immediate and demands attention or you’ll be seen as uncaring in the face of adversity.”

My interviewer leaned back in their chair with a decided frown briefly crossing her face.

“No, that’s not how we work here.  We are a publicly traded company.”

“So, what do you do?”

“Nothing.  We don’t respond.”

Wow.  She explained it further to me,

“If we give attention to someone complaining on our social pages, it leaves us open for liability.”

“Do you offer to reach out to them offline via email or customer service line?”

“No.  We also do not post news stories that are unflattering to our customers.”

I shifted in my chair.  If it’s a troll and they just post on a large corporate entity’s page to get more attention,I agree, do nothing; most intelligent people will understand that the person’s not worth your time.  What’s even sweeter is if you’ve taken the time to cultivate a loyal following of your brand, many of THOSE customers will step up to the plate and address it for you – establishing something that money simply can’t buy and that’s customer loyalty.

However, in a situation where there is genuine customer dis-satisfaction, my gut just tied in knots over their answer of doing – nothing. If you make a mistake in your company? Fix it.  If it adversely affects others?  Tell them.  Fast.  Give them an idea when you’ll be able to solve it just as Buffer did a few weeks ago when they were compromised.    Posting unflattering stories of your clients I don’t recommend, but I also don’t think it’s right to bury your head in the sand, either.  Does your customer know the story’s out there?  What’s their take on it?  Perhaps you could offer a platform to your customer that the traditional news media hasn’t given?  It’s a slippery slope for a CEO to determine what is released into the Wild, Wild, Web.  That’s why Buffer’s story is so wonderful:

1)  The CEO addressed the issue directly.

2)  They responded within 10 minutes of the breach.  On a weekend.

3)  They could have lost customers, but instead, they gained the magic glue that’s been holding companies together long before the Internet:  TRUST.

Yes, if you have a chronic Negative Nellie posting on your wall and it’s minor, let it go.  However, if it is customer-affecting, is seen as a sore-spot and you can take action to resolve it, take action.

Planning Posts Prevents Poor P.R.

Get your ducks in a row internally first, so that you have a game plan. Then, by all means, communicate with those who put you in the driver’s seat in the first place – your customers.