Walk the Walk When Consumers Talk the Talk

With the rapid expansion of social media in past several years, consumers now have a virtual bully pulpit at their fingertips every minute of every day. Taking to their phones, tablets and PCs, they’ve found a far-reaching and powerful vehicle for their opinions — and most everyone who is motivated enough to comment about a product or service falls into one of two categories.

Love it. Or hate it.

This is the blessing and the curse of social media for companies today. One day, your fans will flock to Facebook, Twitter and message boards to sing your praises and produce more free advertising than you could shake a stick at.

The next day? Your products are in recall, your lawyers are doing damage control and throngs of angry (former) disciples are demanding refunds and telling everyone and their uncle to swear off your brand forever.

Last fall, NBC News chronicled some recent high-profile social media sins committed by United Airlines, Walmart and Apple — namely, deleting negative comments from social media and getting caught.

“Many organizations still haven’t made the psychological leap from websites to social media,” said David Armano, a social media adviser at Edelman Worldwide. “There may be a gray area when companies choose to control what appears on their own dot-com, but erasing comments from Facebook is universally seen as a no-no by users.”

The lesson? Once it’s on the web, it’s there forever. And in most cases of shady deletion, there was far more talk of the alleged censorship than the original comments themselves. The best course of action is a clear chain of command and a plan of action when a crisis emerges. Continue to engage users, keep the conversation going, respond where appropriate and — most importantly in the digital age — be seen as a company willing to work to regain the public’s trust.

Social media outlets are like “social embassies,” said Armano. “Maybe you control the grounds, but what happens just outside the embassy you have no control over. Trying to control the discussion is just not worth it.”

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