Posts Tagged ‘cost of social media’

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The Art of Apologizing Online

November 4, 2013

This originally was published as my article in RSVP MN Magazine for September 2013. Click here to read it thereRSVP MN MAG SEPTMBER ARTICLE

We’ve all had to say, “I am sorry” to someone at some time (at least I hope so). We’re human. We screw things up and we need to make things right. The same thing happens in business. Probably more than we ever want it to. The problem of today, in business, sometimes when we screw up, it’s online. Instead of only a few people seeing it, the potential is that millions of people have now seen it. It’s hard enough sometimes to apologize person to person, and now you have to potentially apologize to hundreds, thousands or millions online. It’s a pretty daunting task.

Apologizing online falls into a completely different aspect of apologies. It tends to be very public. It is hard to convey feelings or emotions via text and 140 characters. It can easily be assumed to be false or not heartfelt or true, and in the worst cases it can be seen as patronizing and condescending. There are some basic best practices that need to be followed to allow your online apology to be accepted and that you are able to recover from the mistake that led to the issue in the first place. Here are five best practices to help you say you’re sorry online:

1. Respond immediately when there is an issue. In today’s age of business there is no excuse for not monitoring your name and brand online. There are plenty of free tools like Google Alerts, and push notifications from Twitter and Facebook to let you know when someone mentions you or your company online. We live in a time of instant communications, and businesses can no longer “wait to formulate a response.” In the time you take to formulate that response, the issues can go viral. Remember the Domino’s Pizza video of employees doing crude things to food? The company found out about it on a Sunday night, but waited until Wednesday to take the first step. By then there were well over a hundred thousand views of the video.

2. Always apologize on the same social or online channel where the offense or issue is mentioned. If it is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Yelp, etc., you need to respond to the report of the issue where it has been made. Even if you need time to investigate an issue, by responding quickly on the same channel helps convey the perception and thought that you care. Then keep the lines of communication open on those same channels until the issue has been resolved. Bystanders may see your efforts and at least understand you are responding to the situation. Going silent only hurts matters by letting the message and sentiment be formed in your absence. If there is no means to respond, such as the comment being made on a blog, website, or online publication which doesn’t allow for responses, use your own channels (blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to respond. Link to the original online remark (URL) to inform the audience to the details of the incident, when the issue is searched for in the future, your response will be tied to the issue that happened.

3. Explain what went wrong. It might have been as simple as someone sent out the wrong message or hit send without thinking. You need to let people know how you are reacting to the problem and taking steps to correct it. Without conveying any self-examination and action towards resolution, it will appear as if you don’t care and are doing nothing. Remember, online isn’t always as visual so convey these thoughts in words.

4. Explain what you are doing to correct the situation and what steps you are putting in place to ensure it won’t happen again. This goes hand in hand with the previous step. If there is no plan or evidence of changed behavior, it will appear you are insincere and not really doing anything about the problem, and hence you are thought not to care about it. Add links and evidence to show what steps are being taken if that would help. Copies of new company policies or guidelines would be great to post as would photos of corrections, and so on. Evidence goes a long way toward rebuilding trust in your actions.

5. Finally, use the apology as an opportunity to make amends. If you show that you truly realize the scope and magnitude of your actions has hurt your standing in the community, use this opportunity to become a better corporate citizen. Overachieve on your next endeavor, especially if there is a community benefit to doing it. Your brand is only as valuable as the audience that follows, supports and enjoys what you do and your role in their lives. It is all too easy to move on to the next brand. Don’t allow your brand to lose reputation credibility and following all because of a few missteps. The best companies in the digital age will plan for a strategy and policy that heads this off at the beginning rather than a plan that chases the tail end of the problem.

By mastering the art of apologizing online, you may be able to save your company, your brand, or hopefully at the very least, your job.

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Businesses – Are you failing to maintain your online presence?

April 13, 2012

Negative Comments Can Spread Like Wildfire

It’s not enough to have an online presence anymore.  It is great that you have a Facebook Page, Twitter Account, and YouTube channel, but are you maintaining them?  In 2011 we saw many businesses leap online, eager to try out social media and leverage the communication and business power of these tools. Now, a year later, the scary fact is that most of these websites and social accounts have been abandoned or are not being used effectively (or even correctly in some situations).  You may have had the right intentions by setting these accounts up, especially if you were doing it to secure your IP and registered business names to protect your corporation.  If you set up accounts in order to have access to the platform, to monitor or listen to feedback, criticism, and comments, that is also a great reason to be on social media, but only if you are engaging back. OK, so now you are thinking to yourself: “So what?  We have a presence on social media platforms as our bosses told us we had to do.”

What if I told you that these abandoned, neglected, and incomplete accounts are actually hurting your business, and that they were actually costing you money to your bottom line, in spite of the fact that it was free to set up accounts on most of these platforms. If you are neglecting, abandoning, and failing to complete and monitor these accounts, you are losing customers, for the following reasons:

  1. The perception that your company is “Out of Date”, “Out of Touch”, and downright “Incompetent” in engaging your audience on social media – Many customers that encounter your business on the web, will check out these accounts just to see what is happening.  If, for instance, your Twitter account hasn’t been updated in the last 90 days, you are perceived as being “out of touch” and therefore a company that is seemed as approachable and eager to listen to a customer.  Incomplete profiles, pages without headshots or branding, or important information missing, such as contact info, gives off the impression that you are incompetent, especially to the under 35 crowd that is pretty much living their lives on the internet and mobile devices.
  2. The perception that your company isn’t listening – 98% of all internet users expect you to not only have a presence on these social media platforms, but they want you to engage with them as well on these platforms.  Especially when a customer has a question or complaint. Today’s internet users in this text driven society, demand and expect to have a response from your company quickly on the social media platform where they made the comment or complaint.  24 hours is an eternity and will not gain you any favors.  You need someone to actively manage these accounts and respond. 
  3. The perception that your company is ( insert descriptor word here: bad, evil, inept, uncaring, etc.) – More and more web companies live or die by their online reputation. If your company lets too many negative reports build online over any subject, without addressing and responding to these comments and complaints, can lead to the escalation of the issue, and in turn its ability to go viral.

Ultimately, you can think of each of these social media accounts the same way you would as building little campfires.  If you neglect them, all sorts of things can result. Your best hope is that they fizzle, die, and disappear.  occasionally though there are those fires that can flare up, escape its confines and end up becoming a raging wildfire, leaving behind swaths of ruin for your business.  If you are struggling with how to maintain your social media accounts, contact us and we’ll help you to take control of your accounts. www.sterlingcrossgroup.com.

All stats were compiled from www.pewinternet.org

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How one Ad/PR agency’s actions is killing three brands: Disney Pictures, AMC Theatres, & MN Parent Magazine

August 10, 2009

Have you seen the excitement that ensues when a child wins a prize?  It can be any prize really, but how about if a child wins tickets to a new movie such as the new 3D Disney Movie, G-Force? You would expect the level of that child’s excitement would be pretty high, and if you’re a parent you’re probably rating the excitement even higher imagining your own child’s reaction.

Now, imagine the crash of disappointment that child experiences when they arrive at the theater to be told that the movie theater is full to capacity (a half an hour before the start time) due to the fact that the Advertising/Public Relations agency (Allied Advertising & Public Relations) purposely overbooked the theater to ensure they had a packed theater. Not overbooked by a few tickets, they overbooked by at least a hundred tickets based on the disappointed families left standing in the lobby of the theater.

Those families were outraged.  There was no second theater opened up to accommodate the families they overbooked. There were no offers of passes to see another children’s movie showing at the theater. There was no evidence of customer service skills demonstrated by the three people from Allied Advertising what-so-ever, and sadly that ended up tarnishing, damaging, and for those parents of disappointed children, killing three brands: MN Parent Magazine, AMC Theaters, and Disney Pictures.

The sad point is that many companies are often in the dark about how their brand is being handled when it is out of their “direct control.”  MN Parent Magazine and Disney Pictures were unaware of Allied Advertising’s practice when contacted.  AMC was worse; their onsite management team was apathetic. They could care less that their patrons were affected by Allied’s actions.  The AMC manager, claiming she was the “highest authority” I could speak to regarding the Edina, MN location, said that the theater was not “responsible” since Allied Advertising had rented the auditorium for the event.

As a parent, who had brought three children to see the movie G-Force (Who is also a PR practitioner) I was appalled by the actions of Allied Advertising and their practice of intentionally overbooking movie premieres.  One would have to wonder if Allied’s practice of this was to boost their numbers for their client, Disney Pictures.  Disney Pictures should be concerned then that they are paying for such surreptitious practices and not getting true results for their money being spent.  If Disney Pictures is testing or hoping to gain market research insight, then every event carried out by Allied is tainted, and cannot be considered valid data.

One of the Allied Advertising reps did finally offer to pay for myself and the three children to go see any other movie playing that night, but only after I identified myself as someone that worked in PR and after they witnessed/overheard me call a local news station to speak with the assignment desk to report on the events happening and see if they wished to send a reporter. At that point the Reps from Allied Advertising were willing to do just about anything to get me to leave. Of the three other brands associated, only MN Parent magazine has reached out to all of the parents that had received “free tickets” through them and promises to have Allied provide free passes to see G-Force in theaters.  AMC and Disney Pictures have yet to respond to complaints submitted via email on their websites.

So who controls your brand once it is out of your hands?  Do you have vendors, resellers, distributors, field reps?  How are they caretaking your brand?  Will they respond with the same level of customer service that you provide to your customers?  What are the repercussions if they don’t?  How will you know if they are carrying through your brand?  Are you set up to monitor your brand once it is out of your control? What is the cost if you don’t?  What do you think?

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Horizon Realty – A Case Study in how not to handle online reputation management

August 3, 2009

It started out fairly innocuously, it was a single retweet on Twitter of a news source I monitor, but the headline was too intriguing not to read – Will one Chicago woman’s Tweet cost her $50,000? I immediately thought to myself; “boy, someone is in trouble…,” but as I clicked on the link and read the first article here, and then I saw it was a headline here and here, I quickly saw the writing on the wall, it wasn’t the person that was in trouble, it was the company referenced: Horizon Realty.

The company in their response and defense of the single tweet by a woman, Amanda Bonnen, with the Twitter username:  @abonnen, initiated legal proceedings seeking $50,000 in damages for claimed defamation.  This is the company’s right to do so.  It is even a recommended course in traditional public relations crises communications tactics, yet, it is never the first recommended course when trying to manage your brand and reputation online. It should be the last resort.

When someone brings out the giant cannon of litigation, without having investigated and addressed the message in a public forum, it is immediately seen by the public watching, as overkill.  The giant corporation is now seen as bullying, callous, and unfeeling towards its tenants in the actions it has taken in response.

The response the company was initially hoping to avoid (that of their reputation being besmirched by the remark, has instead inflicted 1000’s of remarks to their own reputation, when word of the lawsuit reached the Twitter community.  The Twitter community took the side of the woman, and began to tear the company to shreds online for its “heavy-handedness”, “Lawsuit-happy management”, and generally being “clueless” (all words being mentioned online as descriptors of the company).

The response by Horizon’s Jeffrey Michael in a Chicago Tribune interview  , was that they were a “Sue first, ask questions later, type of company.” Once again this irked the general public online. Michael later (1 day, an eternity online)  released a press release claiming the comments were meant to be “tongue-in-cheek”, and then delved into the details of some ongoing issues that Horizon has had with Ms. Bonnen and some prior complaints she has had with them.  AS you can imagine, this release was not received well online, and for a second day, Horizon was listed as a trending topic on Twitter as the negative conversations continued fueled by Horizon themselves.

In the first 72 hours that this occurred, the damage on the net was done.  It’s been classified as an example of the Streisand Effect - an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be widely publicized.  Companies can no longer scoff at the idea that their reputation online does not matter, and that they have to participate in and listen to the conversations.  Horizon failed to do so, and the end results so far are these:

  • They became a trending topic on Twitter, meaning that they went from the 22 followers of Ms. Bonnen’s to being seen potentially by over a million people (of their own doing with the news of the lawsuit). The most recent 1500 comments can be seen here (it would be more, but that is all that Twitter has room for in their search tool).
  • If you Google “Horizon Realty”, four of the eleven first page listings are negatively related to the lawsuit. (Think of how that looks to a future potential tenant or someone searching for a management company).
  • Their reviews on Yelp have exploded from three listings prior to this event to 26 listings (ranging from annoyed to enraged) as of today keeping their ratings as a lowly 1 and a half stars.
  • Google Blog search shows over 16,000 blog posts that are already indexed, of which over 1000 include the phrase: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” There are also over 14,000 posts mentioning Jeffrey Michael (predominantly in a negative manner)
  • Not only has Horizon Realty earned the onus of being attributed to the Streisand Effect on Wikipedia, Horizon Realty has its own entry page.
  • The story jumped to traditional media as well – earning mentions in the Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Wall Street Journal and too many other outlets (over 512 stories as of today’s writing) to mention.

Is there still doubt in your mind or in the minds of your company that social media doesn’t matter?

Crisis Communication on Social Media has to have different rules, since it is different from traditional media.  We recommend the following steps be in place as the basics for any online reputation management strategies and policies that need to be put in place:

  1. Always investigate complaints made & verify the facts and source.
  2. Responding to a complaint – where:  when possible, respond on the same site the comment was made.  If it was on a blog submit a comment – if the blogger refuses to post your response, notate this and publish your post on your own blog or website.
  3. When to respond: respond in as timely a manner as possible, when the complaint has been investigated. 24 hours is a lifetime on the Internet – waiting makes things worse.
  4. Legal action may be taken to protect your IP, Brand, & Reputation: but remember, Internet issues are tricky as there are 1stAmendment issues involved that may require special expertise. Slander, Defamation of Character, Harassment, and online Bullying laws can apply. Legal intervention is required in most cases to force removal of material from the Internet. Copyright Infringement could be involved in the case of brand or identity theft.

As you can see, escalating to legal action is an option, just not the first recommended option, and never until the first three steps have been taken.

The final thoughts I will leave you with are these – the best defense is a good offense:

  1. The conversation is happening online whether you like it or not – will you participate?
  2. It’s not good enough to be present online – You need to engage your audience and participate in the conversation
  3. Transparency and Authenticity rule the net – Lies and misrepresentation will always be found out and called
  4. True Customer Service comes from listening, observing, and engaging – then, providing a thoughtful, timely response.
  5. Perception online is always a consideration – if you are perceived as the bully in responding to a complaint, using threats, or worse – legal action that could be avoided, then you lose, even if you are in the right.
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The ROI of Managing your Online Reputation & Brand presented by Sterling Cross Communications

March 31, 2009

Who: Sterling Cross Communications, a Twin Cities based Social Media, PR and Web Design firm.

What: 90-minute workshop presentation that educates and arms participants with awareness and tools to understand, monitor and shape their online reputation and brand.

When: Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 – 8:30 – 10:30 a.m.
*Breakfast/registration opens at 8:30 a.m. – session start time 9:00 a.m.

Where: The Learning Center at the offices of Lurie Besikof Lapidus and Company LLP; 2501 Wayzata Boulevard; Minneapolis, MN 55405

Cost: $100 for general admission – $85 for Early bird purchases by April 17th.

Registration: http://onlinereputation.eventbrite.com/ for more details contact Sterling Cross Communications – 763.496.1499 or info@sterlingcrossgroup.com

People are talking about you online. Do you know what they are saying? Is it good or bad?
Bad reviews, comments, or complaints can be costing you business every day.
• Do you know how to respond?
• Do you have a contingency plan to handle an online communications crisis?
• Why does it affect you?
89% of US online buyers read customer reviews before they purchase: 43% most of the time, 22% all of the time. A bad reputation hits your bottom line.

Christopher Lower, Co-owner of Sterling Cross Communications will open your eyes to the status of your brand and reputation online, how to monitor and manage it, and give you tangible steps to improve its condition.
We’ll discuss:
• How and where to monitor what’s being said online about your brand, your company, and you.
• Strategies and steps to take to respond to information already posted.
• Strategies and steps to take to have negative information removed, mitigated, or retracted.
• You’ll learn the key components of Crisis Communication plans for online issues.
• Discover how to execute effective online Customer Service.
• Best of breed tools and solutions that provide immediate results will be discussed and demonstrated.

About your Presenter:
Christopher Lower has over 17 years of marketing, PR, and strategic consulting. He has 10 years of focus on emerging web technologies and their use in marketing – Blogs, Podcasts, Viral Campaigns, Social Media (Linkedin, Twitter, etc.), Wikis, Webinars, RSS, and Mobile Technology Solutions.

About Sterling Cross Communications:
Sterling Cross is a Social Media, Public Relations, & Web Design Firm. They are the firm behind Social Media campaigns for over a dozen companies including; moto-i, The Bailey Consulting Group, Augeo Benefits, Baja-Sol, and several other clients that do business in both the B2B & B2C space. For more info please visit http://www.sterlingcrossgroup.com.

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The Cost of Not Entering into Social Media – How it Hurts Your Company (Part Four & Final for Now…)

February 11, 2009

In wrapping up our discussion on the cost of not entering into Social Media – How it hurts your company, we want to discuss something that every CEO and CFO can appreciate – ROI, or in the case of Social Media – ROP (Return on Participation).

At best, the tracking of traditional media – PR and advertisements being tied to audience numbers has always been sketchy at best.  Traditional media campaigns rely on the amount of people who actually see the ad.  Think about the companies that buy a full page spread in The Wall Street Journal or N.Y. Times.  What do you think that costs?  According to information provided: a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal costs around $175,000 (according to www.wsj.com).  A 30 second commercial costs around $350,000, Billboards are around $25,000/year and Radio ads run around $5,000/week (according to a Clear Channel sales rep). Note: rates based on date of this posting and may be subject to change.

So how do you measure the success of these massive costs?   Traditional media relies on one way communication with as many people as possible, but then what?  Our attention is decreasing, now, more than ever, it’s easy for us to ignore ads.  Your TV commercial is only good if it isn’t Tivo’d out.  How do you track the impressions of your full page ad in the paper or magazine?  You can try to fudge some circulation numbers into a pseudo-percentage that you can hope is close, but there are still no tangible numbers, unless you tie it to an action.

Social media platforms themselves do not charge you to become a user (for the most part). In social media, here are some of the things we can measure.  The majority of the cost falls under “time” or participation (unless of course you are building a micro-site or some sort of customized social media platform/game/etc.).  Here is a list of some of the things we can measure:

1.       SEO & traffic to a site, there are many ways to measure this i.e. referral sites, organic listings, inbound links to pages or sites, etc.

2.       The amount of conversation/number of comments that you receive

3.       You can track your overall brand image and work to change it if need be.

4.       You can see the amount of times something is opened, shared with, or forwarded to other people

5.       The number of sales or increase in revenue, you can track this by using analytics programs and setting up funnels/goals to track conversion points.

6.       The number of dedicated subscribers/followers/people that want to engage and interact with you or your brand

Another thought – the real problem is that we measure traditional marketing programs the wrong way. Almost everything in traditional measurement programs is customer transaction-based – how much will it cost to get a customer to buy, once based on viewing a traditional media piece. What we really need to measure is the customer’s life-cycle value.  This includes any repeat purchases, his/her ability to influence others in making buying decisions, and the value of their extended network.

Finally, most traditional media measurement analytics – is based upon reactive activity, rather than predictive. Too many companies are not measuring their customers to determine where their business is going, or how successful new product or service offerings will be.

So, after all of this, is your company still on the fence about engaging in social media?  Why? Leave a comment and let me know.  If they still are on the fence, I’m more than happy to come over and have a chat with them!

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The Cost of Not Entering into Social Media – How it Hurts Your Company (Part Three)

January 3, 2009

At the beginning of this conversation, we entered into a discussion of the fact that several companies have been questioning the “benefits” of entering into social media, and that many were still going to take a “wait and see” approach before delving in.  Many of the objections being raised were based on false assumptions. Social Media is too new. No one is really using these platforms. My customers aren’t using these platforms. Throughout this series, we’ve been dispelling these myths, and shaping the discussion around the following – What will it actually cost you and your company if you don’t engage in social media?  The answers are these so far: market share and sales, new business acquisition, your existing customers, and now we come to the next cost – loss of your internal talent, and the ability to recruit employees in the future.

Maybe this isn’t a worry for you if you are one of those companies that are laying-off staff this year. Why did you get to that point?   Is it truly just the panic of the economy? Why are other companies thriving and surviving? Are your marketing and sales teams allowed to utilize the best possible tools to achieve their goals?  Are you still clinging to traditional media and the cost it entails? Social media tools are very cost-effective and can turn that around for you, yet I digress, that will be covered fully in part four.

So back to the topic at hand – loss of your existing talent and your ability to recruit new talent. In the much quoted book, First, Break all the Rules, there was an extensive survey citing the top reasons good employees leave their employers. Three of those top reasons include the lack of their company to innovate, communicate, and empowering & incorporating these employees in the running and growth of the business.  How do your employees feel about your company? What is their perception of your ability to innovate, etc?

Will your company be able to attract talent in the future?  Over 64 million workers will exit from the workforce by the year 2010; this puts employers in a talent deficit dilemma. The pools they have to dip from are young men and women from ages 22-30. These employees operate on principles of openness, participation and interactivity. If a company’s technology infrastructures, including the intranet and technology platforms, do not encourage free communication, innovation, interaction and collaboration, it misses a big opportunity. Worse, it alienates these younger, internet-savvy employees.

Can your company afford this side-effect of not entering into social media?

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