PR: The Good, Bad and Ugly
Social Media PR: Are You Answering Customers With the Right Response?
by Ryan Didsbury on 09/25/2012
One purpose of social media PR is to encourage a two-way conversation between businesses and their clients. Unfortunately, it seems sometimes that the responses generated are inadequate – or even worse, result in negative interactions.
A primary offender is the auto response approach. In one recent incident, Progressive Insurance compounded a bad situation in which it was receiving criticism from a policyholder on Tumblr whose sister died in a car accident. Progressive not only refused to settle for more than a third of the amount of the sister’s policy, but the company brought its legal team to help defend the driver accused of killing the woman during the family’s lawsuit against the defendant.
Many people who saw the Tumblr post were upset by the company’s insensitive actions and complained on Progressive’s Twitter page. Unfortunately, Progressive relied on the same canned automated response, which meant that each answer looked embarrassingly insincere, as it appeared repeatedly to every query no matter who posted.
In the face of this public outcry, Progressive wound up paying the underinsured motorist claim to the woman’s family as well as a separate settlement to avoid a hearing before the state insurance commissioner. But as The New York Times assessed the situation and mentioned the online mess, it concluded that “Progressive sure seems to have done absolutely everything wrong here.”
You must be prepared to engage with your audience at any time on Twitter, Facebook, blogs or other social media channels. That includes the possibility of negative comments. Complaints are a fact of life, and if you fail to follow the three basic rules of how to respond to avoid a crisis PR situation – “tell it all, tell it fast, tell the truth” – you will end up only compounding your problems.
A PR professional seasoned in social media knows how to help his or her clients develop techniques to respond personally to comments when needed. Some recommended steps to follow include:
- Address only the facts at hand in a calm manner. Stay on point and resist the temptation to be as rude as the writer was.
- Never delete a post with a comment you don’t want to answer. Your followers will notice when you take that action and think you are trying to hide something.
- Try to take the conversation offline if the commenter is persistently negative. In the case of Twitter, you could move the conversation to direct messages to avoid more public discussion.
The bottom line is to treat conversations on social media much like you would when talking to someone in real life. Read what they have to say, think before answering and then respond in a timely manner. Most of the time, that will do the trick.
What are your thoughts about responding properly to company complaints via social media?
Photo Credit: Ryan Leclaire, Study Magazine