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Victoria Kuhn
by Victoria Kuhn
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Keeping your customers with a Facebook snafu

09/29/2010
Keeping your customers with a Facebook snafu

Many of our clients ask us to deploy a Facebook strategy. Sounds good to us... and then we start asking questions and when we get to why, we get hemming and hawing or you know the response, everyone has a Facebook page. Let me say it now, not everyone has a Facebook page. A presence on Facebook is an investment in your brand. Think of Facebook or any new media tool as a promotional tool and a marketing expense. Using Facebook mandates having a social media strategy and the resources to execute the strategy. Does your organization have a public relations plan? How about a crisis management plan?

So, where does Facebook fit into the marketing plan of your business?

Why a crisis management plan? Well, let's take a recent story in National Public Broadcasting of a message AT&T sent to millions of its customers. The message delivered was something like one of AT&T's television commercials—"our network covers nearly all of the USA" and then the message announced a bunch of network updates. Sounds like a good message? Well, if you're an iPhone user (like me) you may have had (or continue to encounter) service issues and excessive dropped calls with the AT&T network. At the end of the message, AT&T requested comments on its Facebook page... and boy, did it get comments. Mostly negative comments and then more negative comments. From viewing AT&T's Facebook page during that time and since, it seems totally probable that its customer service, tech troubleshooting, marketing, and public relations teams (and plans) are integrated. The AT&T culture is customer service oriented so its crisis management plan may well be deeply embedded into its culture and staff actions across multiple functional silos. If your organization doesn't exhibit a similar culture should a groundswell of contrarian feedback occur, pull the rip cord right now on your crisis management plan or if your organization has no plan, put your head between your legs and breathe deeply (or spend loads of money contacting an experienced PR/crisis management firm).

Many companies ask their clients and the public to post comments on Facebook or Tweet on Twitter, yet sometimes they don't have the staff or policies in place to fully engage users on the subjects contained with the comments or Tweets. It is like two people engaging in dialogue face-to-face, one is speaking and the other isn't listening. So, now a crisis has happened, something unanticipated, a worst-case scenario. A company can maintain openness in the comments on its wall, limit comments, or remove comments. Limiting or removing comments infuriates new media users, as do organizations that don't respond to comments that ask questions.

On AT&T's Facebook page, there are more than one-half million users who are registered likers of the brand. How many users will like your brand in the first year? What nomenclature will you use to convey positive thoughts and appreciation and negative feedback? Will your organization respond within 15 minutes or 15 hours? Will you take comments seriously? Will you seek to solve problems in the public domain? Will users be given a special point of contact name, e-mail address, or 1-800 number?

Be prepared for (nearly) anything when beginning a new media venture, which is why the development (and execution) of a strategy is important.

Here's our Top 10 list of questions and to-dos that basically comprise the development of a Facebook strategy:

  1. Why deploy Facebook with your existing business or marketing plan? If your organization blogs, how will you integrate the two tools?
  2. What name do you want to use with your Facebook home page: the brand name, a tagline, or a vanity word or term?
  3. What high-level messages do you want to share? [e.g. think of this as a Facebook mission or vision for your organization]
  4. How does your organization promote itself? [e.g. print media? online banner ads? hosting or sponsoring events? producing videos? through the gift of prose? selling widgets online or in a retail setting?]
  5. Who within your organization has the social media skills to develop a Facebook strategy and/or tactically execute the strategy? Or where can you purchase this skill set?
  6. How can Facebook help your business differentiate itself from your competitors?
  7. Do your organization's public relations and/or crisis management plans need to get updated? [Do you need to develop a PR and/or crisis management plan?]
  8. What existing measurements can you leverage to determine if your organization's Facebook initiative is successful? Or what new measurements may be needed?
  9. How will your organization engage your customers and prospective customers? Do you want to engage the public too ('cause you know', everyone has an opinion)?
  10. What are the best and worst things that could come to your organization from having a Facebook presence?

Let's focus on the last item first: the best and the worst. Oftentimes, leaders in organizations don't spend time on scenario planning, thinking about what could happen when a brand enters the Wild, Wild West of Facebook. Go there, daydream for a while about the best thing that could happen and just before you find yourself in Laa-Laa Land, think about the worst public relations nightmare. Being prepared helps organizations manage the uncertainties of business, in a general sense, and specifically with Facebook should an unexpected mishap occur.

Now think about how, what, and when your organization communicates with the outside world. We work with our clients at three levels: engagement, rewards, and social responsibility. These terms are generally part of an organization's business and/or marketing plans. They can help your organization deliver your content messages, share valuable information (and savings), demonstrate commitment to community and cause, and provide an organization with the opportunity to measure outcomes. Every Dirigo client wants to know what is working and what isn't to repurpose programs and budgets accordingly. So does your organization share information? Seek information? Do you coupon? Sponsor events or programming with cause? If so, Facebook can be a valuable tool.

An organization can use Facebook to ask users about an issue (while not statistically valid, learning views of a cohort of people can be helpful to organizations), spread the word about a cause (following the Health Observances calendar like October being breast cancer awareness month), and provide coupons or discounts on products... and to most clients, the granddaddy is the interested Facebook user who elects to click to your organization's Web site to read more (e.g. follow the sales funnel) and ultimately purchase or register for your widget.

Back to the AT&T Facebook snafu, your organization, as AT&T did, will need to determine its policy on offensive language and incorrect statements: keep 'em, limit, or remove (apparently AT&T kept them). What about if your Facebook page goes viral, catches a buzz? Answer all of 'em? Answer some? None? Which to answer or not? If you don't answer them all, is your organization willing to let users go because you didn't respond? What time of day and days of the week will your staff respond (and not respond)? What is in (and out of) bounds in the dialogue?

As an iPhone user, an integrated marketer, and an AT&T customer, I believe AT&T deployed the right business strategy, from leaving in the negative comments (presumably all comments), staff responsiveness, verbiage and tone in its comments, problem solving attitude, and diligence to keep up with the demand of the sheer volume of comments. While work/home balance is an important ingredient to overall and long-term staff morale and home life contentment, AT&T's staff responded to comments well past business hours and deserves kudos when the infrequent crisis happens upon a brand. And while your brand may not be a behemoth like AT&T, your organization's Facebook actions can help distinguish your brand identity in both good times and bad.

Think about all of this as you contemplate Facebook. Facebook is a great marketing tool. It needs to be developed and resourced properly and sustainably, along with your organization's business, marketing, public relations, and crisis management plans.

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