Communication – the best marketing there is…
You can’t have failed to have noticed that in recent weeks there’s been quite a storm about a person’s right to privacy versus freedom of speech versus, you guessed it, the internet.
It’s a debate that’s been raging on and off for ages now, whether it’s governments getting upset about Wikileaks or national courts being made to look an ass for media gagging orders which are no longer fit for purpose in our social media age.
Of course, what all these protagonists have in common is a wish to mediate the messages that get into the public domain. Public bodies, private companies and even individuals appear to be coming to the realisation that using legal means doesn’t guarantee they can prevent publication of a bad news story in our digital age. Just ask footballer Ryan Giggs; it’s estimated that 75 thousand people on Twitter knew he was the person at the centre of a kiss and tell scandal before Scottish newspaper The Herald published the revelation.
Putting aside legal means (which are looking pretty ineffectual in any event), a business can take one of two approaches when managing a leak of bad news onto the Internet.
The first, and one I’d never recommend, is to attempt to supress bad news by massaging online media. This involves quite a bit of questionable practice as, in order for it to be effective, the company or other organisation it hires (a branch of PR calling itself Reputation Management), needs to create literally hundreds of spoof Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter IDs that will attempt to trend on positive news about this business. The aim is to drive down any bad news in search engine results.
It’s reputed to work, pushing bad news off the first results page. And, as has become increasingly apparent, few people pay any attention to results on anything other than this first page. Bad news that falls off the first page of results might as well not exist at all.
Of course, whilst lucrative for the growing Reputation Management sector, it’s unlikely to be a foolproof nor permanent remedy. And that’s where we return to nuts and bolts communication.
If you are providing a service and people criticise it, do you ignore the complaints or address them? Clearly if the business is in it for the long haul customers need to be happy and to do this they need to be communicated to.
That’s why all the legal and quite probably illegal methods of surpressing negative information are basically toxic. Effective marketing means taking on the critics on their own turf. It’s being done to great effect by a range of companies who have, to their benefit, discovered that dealing quickly with criticism works best in the end. Companies such as online fashion retailer ASOS or mobile network Vodafone, have put great store into having teams dedicated to communicating with customers when they have a complaint or criticism.
This works well on two levels. From a practical perspective it makes the company look efficient and fair. But the sub-text to this is also that the company cares about its customers and is prepared to engage with them on their communication platform of choice. Today that may be Facebook, Twitter or the comments below a company blog. Tomorrow… who knows.
But the key point here is that engaging with your critics and addressing their concerns will, in the end, serve a business far better than simply trying to brush bad news under the carpet and pretend it’s not there. That’s what we’re seeing happen regularly in courts in both Europe and the USA. It’s not worked and is unlikely to get any better.
Remember, if enough bad news is generated, eventually the carpet’s not going to be able to contain it all and it will spill out anyway. That’s why the best way to deal with bad news is to address it head on. Ignoring bad news or, worse, trying to use legal and illegal methods to supress it, will always have to be paid for in the end.
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