Online Community Management

3 Rules for Managing Negative Online Comments

Negative Feedback2Nowadays, customers believe they are entitled to excellent customer service, anywhere, anytime. Brands can thank social media in part for that. Social media provides customers with a public forum to lodge their complaints very conveniently in front of a very large audience. In fact, according to the Global Web Index, about 50% of customers now follow brands in order to access some form of customer service via social channels. It’s no surprise then that more and more brands are improving their image by providing customer support via social. But what sort of plan should you have in place to contend with negative comments when they arise?

There is no shortage of advice here: There are 5 tips for dealing with negative Facebook comments. Or if you want even more, you can easily find 8 ways to deal with negative comments in online communities. Can we go higher still? Social Media Today published an article that outlines the 12 principles for responding to negative online comments. For ease-of-reference, here they are:

  1. Move fast
  2. Be accurate
  3. Be flexible
  4. Be transparent
  5. Be sincere
  6. Be human
  7. Be focused
  8. Follow-up
  9. Add value
  10. Take control
  11. Avoid fights
  12. Don’t Censor

Let’s simplify. You don’t need 12. You don’t need 8. You don’t need 5. You need 3. 

The ethic of Reciprocity.

The first six principles above should be self-evident to any customer-service, marketing or PR professional. They have to do with the most basic customer-service tenet. You can distill these six principles down into a singular recitation of the Golden Rule: treat your customers as you would treat yourself.

Be Opportunistic.

Turn your negative-comment lemon into lemon-aid. This includes knowing your top social influencers and addressing them appropriately (#7 above). It also means that you can turn a negative comment into a positive experience by following up with your disgruntled customer to ensure they got the answer they needed and that their problem was resolved (#8). Lastly, deepen the relationship to add value. Offer more information than they asked for, ask them for additional feedback, or tell them about new products/services (#9).

Manage the Conversation.

Be a judicious moderator. If someone steps out of line, take appropriate actions. It is, after all, your community (#10). Your page’s comments are your brand’s content. See how far you can go with this by listening to how the Atlantic Monthly’s Ta-Nehisi Coates moderates comments.  Bottom line: if it’s not appropriate, you are empowered to remove it. But before you remove a nasty comment, ask yourself this: Will customers perceive us as being surreptitious if I remove this comment? (#11, #12). Always think of your customers first. If removing a comment would be more helpful to your brand than to your customers, you should probably leave it be.

But what about blatantly false accusations? Should you defend yourself? If those accusations begin to negatively impact relationships with other customers, it’s probably a good idea to stick up for yourself. Southwest Airlines pulled some punches with their own video response to some unruly and outspoken customers. It was authentic and addressed their customers concerns. It was also aggressive, but it worked in putting out the fire of worry among their broader customer base.

What do you think? Are there other principles you use when dealing with negative comments online?


What’s Your Social Object?

Oscar and Dad Playing CatchEvery good marketing campaign needs a social object. In essence it’s the thing that brings people together. It may give people a common purpose or simply give them something to talk about. It encourages and increases sociality. And for a marketing campaign, that’s key, as it gives way to virality and social amplification. (Marketers covet word-of-mouth referrals!) The most obvious non-marketing example of a social object would be a baseball: A boy and his father get some good quality bonding time playing catch in the front yard. The ball becomes the social object that allows them to do this.

In the world of marketing, a great example of a social object would be Kraft’s Oreo Cookie Moments Gallery. The premise is straight forward: To help celebrate its 100th anniversary, Oreo asked it’s fans to share their favorite Oreo photos, videos and stories with them and they would then “share them with the world”. Oreo fans  would upload their own “Oreo Moment” via Facebook or their campaign micro-site. These moments were then displayed on both Facebook and the microsite, and became fully share-able across each fan’s social graph via Facebook. Each Oreo Moment thus became a social object.

Could the Oreo Cookie itself also be a social object? Certainly. Many products themselves are the primary social object for brands. In fact, the guy who advocated the “social object” term says that unless your product is a social object, you might as well not be selling it. Any Apple product (iPhone, iPad, etc.) is a great example of a social object.

On a larger scale, well-functioning social networks must define what their concept of social object is. For example, Flickr uses user-generated photography as the social object. Delicious or Digg use URL’s. Facebook uses images, URL’s, and status updates. But what about LinkedIn? A convincing polemic on why some social networks work and others don’t argues that a successful, sustainable social network must be focused on an “object-centered sociality”.

Something like collaboration itself could be a type of social object. Consider the so-called social business model. In this paradigm, a company, from product, customer service, engineering, marketing and so on, are all interconnected not only with one another, but with their external customers. Michael Brito of Edelman Digital has an informative infographic on what a social business model looks like. Social business managers must discover their social objects if they want to see their customers and employees interact, discuss and evolve their ideas into tangible outcomes. Dell’s IdeaStorm is inspirational in this regard.

As a social media marketer or online community manager, you must frequently uncover your community-wide social objects. How do you do this? There’s no tried and true model here. My advice is to begin by acting as a group facilitator. Listen, listen, listen. Chart out the most commonly discussed topics or products, the sentiment, the problems, the positive feedback, etc. You’ll then have a short list of themes to work with. Get community members involved with not only what the social object is, but what the process and rewards (if any) might be. This can be crucial to engagement.  Remember that ultimately you will not control the object itself. You can, however, facilitate the process and the outcome.

So what’s your community’s social object?

6 Ways To Get More Comments

Speech BubblesOne of the highest priorities of a community manager is driving conversation. In an online community, that manifests in the form of comments. The Utopian online community has lots of users engaged in lots of conversations; comments are sparkling and spraying about in all sorts of directions, while of course staying on-topic to the original theme of each discussion. I’ve been doing some experimentation and research, trying to answer the question, “how can one push the needle on comment creation”? Let me outline 6 things that have worked for me and many others.

1. Create a comment contest. Follow in the footsteps of blog wonderling Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. He clearly has a large and dedicated following built into The Atlantic Monthly brand, but what he does with his audience is enlightening. Check out his comment contests. His premise is simple: “I ask a question and you answer it as if I’m stupid. I’ll pick the best response and feature it in a follow-up post.” Here are a couple examples: London Riots and Race, Rebooting DC Comics. The bonus with this type of contest is it’s FREE. Of course, you can also try giveaways, ala “post a comment and enter to win an iPad”.

2. Pick a controversial topic. Pick a topic that you know will fire up your community. It doesn’t have to be politics. It could be around what your audience thinks is the best digital camera manufacturer, or why compact fluorescent bulbs are good or bad.

3. Pick an easy topic. Find a topic that everyone knows about, but that, unlike #2 above, is easy and non-confrontational to answer. For example, try an “introduce yourself” discussion. Here’s a great “Introduce Yourself” example from Govloop. Or ask commenters for pictures of what they did over the weekend. These are not super engaging discussions, but, particularly for new users who are not quite ready to bare all just yet, they can be a gateway to richer discussions later.

4. Ask a clear and compelling question. Put a good question in the title of your blog post, and follow it up with the question re-iterated at the end of your post. Ask simple Yes or No questions, or ask questions about a photo.  Here are more tips on how to ask compelling, comment-getting questions.

5. Ensure commentors are able to easily follow your post. Make sure they can receive notifications (via email, RSS, or within-platform) whenever a new comment is posted to the discussion. This builds a micro-community around the discussion and promotes continued discussion from your previous commenters. Check out Facebook’s functionality as a great example of within-platform notifications.

6. Create great content in the first place. This one should go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: Write well and check your grammar. Include pictures. Be meaty (500 – 800 words) and thorough with your topic. Consider making your blog post a how-to list like “7 sure fire ways to increase your Klout score“. And definitely give your post a succinct and keyword-rich title. 60 – 70 characters is nice and succinct and will ensure that your full title displays in organic search listings.

Do you have other tips and recommendations on getting more comments? Please share in the comments. 🙂

Are Using Contests To Build Community A Bad Idea?

83/365 So many board games.I read a recent post by Patrick O’Keefe, a very well-respected community manager and blogger, about the place contests and giveaways have in building community. Rather than a community-building tool, he says that “contests and giveaways are marketing for your community”.  While its true that the oeuvre of traditional marketing knowledge indicates that the most common usage of contests and games is to recruit new members, there is a lot of good research to back up the notion that games can be used in very effective ways to build community. (more…)

Interview with Fast Gush

I love pontificating on my favorite topic, don’t you? Last month I got the chance to wax philosophical on the topics of online communities and social media. The folks at FastGush asked some questions. I got to answer. Here’s an excerpt:

The two most frequently asked questions: How do you measure ROI? and how do you measure engagement?

Love these topics! Conduit is about sharing information, networking, and coordination. Our currency is collaboration. We’re ultimately helping people get their work done more effectively. So this is a fuzzy thing to try and turn into a number. Right now, we’re measuring ROI by surveying users and asking to what degree they perceive Conduit as helping them in their work – i.e. “do you believe it is a valuable tool?”.

Another proxy for ROI is engagement. If people are using the tools the site offers and interacting with one another, we believe this is helping push forward the site’s collaboration goals and ultimately accelerating our energy efficiency work. So we measure engagement a couple different ways. The highest level of engagement is content contribution. We measure that by tracking, on a per-member basis, their content contributions over a certain period of time. If they’ve contributed at least once during that period, we deem them engaged. Our monthly average is around 8%. We hope to raise this to above 10% this next year.

See the full interview on the Fast Gush blog.