Coloring Within the Lines: How to Keep Social Media from Backfiring

10 Aug

Coloring within the lines

Don't cross the line!

Whether it is the FCC fining CBS over half a million dollars for Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction or the CAN SPAM Act, the government or someone else always feels the need to step in and establish some rules around media, and social media is no exception. With social media, however, you have an added incentive to play fair; if the online community feels that you are being dishonest, misleading or insensitive to their needs, watch out! The social media community is not shy about making their feelings known.

At the end of last year, the Federal Trade Commission instituted new rules regarding social media marketing, and sites like Facebook have begun to self regulate as well. Here is a recap:

Don’t : Pay people to “like” or endorse your product without disclosing the fact that they have been paid to do so. This goes for bloggers plugging your company as well as sending out a request for testimonials sweetened with a payment or reward. It’s just plain deceptive. One of the nice things about social media is that people trust people to be honest and speak their mind. If it eventually gets out that you have put someone up to endorsing you and didn’t disclose, it could seriously damage the trust you have built up with your community.

Do: Ask your best customers to write reviews and act as brand ambassadors, but don’t pay them off for doing so.

Don’t: Include deceptive topics into your promotional tweets or posts. Habitat, a furniture manufacturer, was caught putting misleading trendy topics like #iphone in front of its promos to add people to its list. Twitter users squawked, and Habitat had to backpedal and issue an apology.

Do: Be upfront about what you are talking about.

Don’t: Require Facebook users to “like” your page in order to enter a contest or sweepstakes. It may give you some more fans, but will cast doubt on your whole fan base.

Do: Use contests to bring people to your page and let them decide for themselves if they really like you.

Don’t: Only send out a steady stream of promotional messages to the exclusion of all else. Last year, the train service Eurostar continually tweeted about its ticket promos, but totally disregarded followers’ questions about the service. This blew up in their face when their trains became stuck in the channel and their silence on the issue was deafening.

Do: Keep a reasonable ratio of useful/interesting/valuable content to promotions, recommended at 4:1 so your users don’t feel spammed, and make sure that you are addressing their real concerns such as customer service and quality issues.

Don’t: Hear only what you want to hear. Sometimes you may launch a product that is roundly panned by your audience. When this happened at Honda with its new Crosstour car, Honda’s product manager was the lone dissenter, loudly praising the car. Not only didn’t he listen to the people, but he neglected to identify his role in the company, another no-no.

Do: Resist the urge to defend yourself. When faced with criticism, thank people for their feedback and tell them that the company will take it into consideration. Then, really do what you said and come back to the community with some kind of resolution to the issues. Domino’s Pizza did a good job of this when confronted with the poor quality of their product. They used TV and social media to admit that their pizza was bad, but that they had improved it and were asking people to give it another try. The campaign was a smashing success, and their stock soared by 50%.

Remember, social media is all about building trust, and if you cross the line and get caught by your community, it could set your company and your social media strategy back for a long time. Before social media, a person who had a bad experience with a company would tell an average of 7 friends about it. Now, the number of people who will instantly hear of a company’s misstep has gone up exponentially. So, be honest and transparent, and treat your community members like they want to be treated, with respect and human dignity. You know, like you would want to be treated by someone else.

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