Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Attacked by Blogs
The recent breakfast cereal incident reminded me of this piece, which ran in Arabian Business, as well as on the blog, a while back. I thought it worth sharing an updated version of the piece just in case it's useful to someone.
What should you do if a blog slags off your company or makes snarky comments about your customer service? What are your rights and how can you fix the damage? Here’s a handy ten point guide for companies that feel themselves wronged by blogs.
Before you rush to make a dim-witted comment on the blog, think about it. What has the blogger said that you disagree with? Is it an opinion or a factual error? Can you back up your assertion that there is a fundamental error? Can you provide evidence that the opinion expressed is ill-founded or at odds with the majority of people? If you work with a PR or communications agency, get their counsel before you act. Cast around for any other mentions, conversations or expressions of opinion/fact on this issue. Once you've commented, monitor the reaction and feedback and be ready to continue the conversation.
2. Remember: it’s a conversation
If you’re being attacked by blogs, it may be worth taking a look at the situation they’re highlighting and seeing if the point is valid and addressable – and then addressing it before going online and saying so. If the attack is invalid, then it’s worth acknowledging the point that’s been made before making your, well-argued, counterpoint in a measured, respectful way. The more aggressive the blogger, the more a measured tone will position you as the reasonable and authoritative participant in the conversation. It’s literally just like a face to face conversation – and wagging fingers or shouting will just get people’s backs up – even if in response to someone who’s obviously infuriated. Think how you’d behave in a customer service situation. Well, bloggers are just customers with an audience. Typically, although not always, people express frustration or annoyance online because the offline system has failed and they haven't felt as if anyone has listened to them.
3. Most blogs don’t matter
Before you go making a great big song and dance, consider doing absolutely nothing. Most blogs are read by an average 1.1 people – the 1 being the blogger. Is the blog well respected and well read? Will it influence opinion? Just because someone in the company has emailed a link to the blog around every member of the management team doesn’t mean that the blog is normally well read. A few hundred visits to a marginal blog prompted by that email, by the way, will just let the blogger know that they’re onto something that gets them more readers. So they’ll likely do more of it, not less.
4. Blogs can matter very quickly
I’m going to be very Delphic now. In deciding to ignore a blog, do bear in mind that blogs can go from zero to hero in absolutely no time. A lot of today’s journalists spend a lot of time on blogs and the oddest things can result in a huge amount of interest. There have been instances of a blog post making national front page headlines within 48 hours in Europe and gaining over 2 million readers as a consequence and Middle East blogs have also broken stories that have moved into mainstream media. And then there are companies that have turned expressions of customer dissatisfaction made on blogs completely to their advantage. The success story is built around actually listening to what people are saying, not ignoring it.
5. Don’t hide your identity
Like the Ray Bans ad says: don’t hide. There may be an urge to post a positive, balancing comment on the blog under an anonymous handle or a pseudonym. Do be aware that most bloggers have access to tools that allow them to track back visitors to the blog. You make a comment on my blog? I know who you are. I also know where you are, what browser you use, what version of Java you have, what operating system, where you came from and where you went to. So if you work for a major daily newspaper or a telco and you don’t like what I’ve got to say, have the guts to say so under your own name so that your comment is honest and balanced by your vested interest. Because I’ll know anyway and just ‘out’ you for being a custard. And so will many other people who write blogs.
6. Find out who the blogger is
No, I don’t mean set the secret service on ‘em. I mean take the time to read some of the blog at least, look at past posts and comments and see if the blogger is authoritative or a loose cannon. There’s nothing more awful than watching some corporate flak try to make a fool out of a widely respected expert because they didn’t bother finding out who the blogger was – regardless of whether they blog under their own names or pseudonyms, bloggers have an ‘identity’ in the overall conversation. (Please do note that I do not, under any circumstance, intend 'widely respected expert' to refer to myself. I'm just a goon.) Take a look at the blogs that link to/are linked to out of the blog. Look at Technorati and find the blog’s rating. There are other tools you can use too, including alexa. See if the blog attracts any comments and also take a few minutes to look at Twitter, because Twitter is probably the greatest blog-traffic driving tool in the blog-traffic driving toolshed. And don't forget Facebook, too! Perhaps also do a google or two and find out how the blog ranks on search. Authority is about tone, resonance and reach.
7. Take some time out to understand blogs in general
Know what a troll is? Or a trackback link? Understand the importance of RSS and feed readers? Know what IMHO stands for? If not, find a younger member of your staff and get them to explain it all to you before you start blundering around crashing conversations. By the way, if you want to know what blogs, Twitterers and others are saying about your company, consider setting up a Google alert. If you're ready to be slightly more sophisticated about your online presence, you'll want to engage an online monitoring company.
8. Don’t crash the conversation
Think of it all like you’d think about joining a real-life conversation. In posting to my blog, I’m putting something into the public domain that I think people will find interesting or that I just want to get off my chest. Usually both! It’s a bit like standing on a soap box. A few people are kind enough to drop by and listen to me – some have a chat with me at the end of the lecture. And I go to their lectures too – to listen and have a chat afterwards. It’s all pretty civilised most of the time. It’s relatively easy to join the conversation as long as you don’t crash in without having bothered to listen to the preceding debate. Again, just as in real life you wouldn’t rudely barge into a group and vent your opinion on a topic without taking the time to find out what the prevailing opinion and tone of debate was like. Well, not unless you want the group to all round on you and tell you to shove off, that is...
9. You can’t make it go away
Blocking access to a blog from within the corporate network because it has attacked your company will just ensure all your staff go home and take a look at what all the fuss is about. I worked with one company that did just that, in the face of our advice, and we watched in frustration as they embarked on a futile and highly visible witch-hunt that resulted in scoring 11,000 visits to a blog that wouldn’t have got 11 visits otherwise. For one reason or another, you have earned the attention of a blog. Depending on the situation, it’s likely that the best and most advisable course of action is to engage with that blog’s author and balance the POV with your own or even, gasp, act on the input. By the way, consider search when you're commenting. The greatest crime of the cereal commenter was naming the clients who weren't otherwise named, ensuring that search brought up the post (try Googling 'Kellogs fake diet'!). SEO can also be your friend - investing in a good SEO strategy means your voice turns up first on search and these days that's actually a business essential.
10. Consider blogging as a tool
Don’t think of blogs as purely a dangerous manifestation of unfettered opinion and irresponsible ‘citizen journalism’. Blogs are so much more than that. They are a powerful medium of expression that is increasingly becoming an important barometer of public opinion and source of public voice. They are self-correcting in a way that conventional media aren't - people will correct a mistake on a blog faster than you can say 'nmkl pjkl ftmch'. And they're part of the revolution in social media that is changing the way people today communicate. They're not about to go away, in other words. By the way, this post is a very good case in self-correcting point!
You can actually use a blog as a highly effective platform for your company to engage with customers. Take some time out to have a look around and you’ll find that they’re actually a neat tool. You don’t have to have a million readers for a blog to matter, either. It’s better to have a few hundred people that want to interact with you than advertise to 100,000 that don’t. Remember, this is the era of the ‘long tail’. So think about joining ‘the conversation’. I think, after a while, you’ll be glad you did.
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