There is an interesting piece in BusinessWeek that talks about how companies need to respond to their most vocal customers. It outlines some of the software now available to help organizations monitor the Web for those discussions.
One of the key points that this article makes is that organizations can no longer control the message. You cannot rein in the conversations that are happening. There are discussions happening online whether you like what is being said or not.
Often, that is the biggest hurdle that a new AHA client needs to get over. Not just accepting that the world has changed, but…dare I say…embracing the fact that the consumer now holds the power.
It’s not an easy paradigm shift and we understand that. For decades, the approach has been to control your brand, to manage the message, and to direct the conversation with the consumer. Now, we’re asking you to participate in the conversation, to really listen when the talk gets tough, and to include the consumer in the process. There are times when I know I sound a little like a therapist as I speak to the senior executive of an organization and ask them to embrace this new world of transparency and authenticity.
There is a great opportunity for an organization to connect and build strong brand loyalty; it’s just done differently. There are no more closed doors; it’s about being open and real. This doesn’t mean that everything you do as an organization is put out for public discussion. It does mean that you have to shift how you view your target market—the people that will want or need your goods and services.
No organization is going to make everyone happy all of the time. There are going to be times when people don’t like a decision that has to be made, but if you have reached out and made these people a part of the process, there will be much less backlash than if you make the decision behind closed doors and exclude them. And, there are plenty of cases where reaching out and engaging people in the process has brought forward great ideas that might not have come to light.
There will always be the anti-groups, the critics who have their own agenda. In fact, it appears anti-groups have created a whole industry for themselves. Don’t forget that there are also rational, thoughtful, intelligent people out there that want to know the whole story – and that includes your side of things. When you create a more inclusive approach to doing business, these are the people that will tell you what they think in a respectful manner and will provide valuable insight into what consumers really think of your brand. They might not always like a decisions you make, but will appreciate that they were a part of the process. These are the people that will, at least, listen to your side of the story and then make a determination on whether they can live with it or not.
The process for moving into actively listening and responding appropriately to what is being said (both online and off) about your brand is an important component of your marketing communications initiatives and it needs to be taken seriously. The challenges that Nestles is facing over the Kit Kat/social media crisis is a solid case study of how important it is for an organization to participate authentically, even when the conversation is negative.
Acknowledging that this is something you need to do as an organization is the first step, embracing it and seeing it as an opportunity is the next step. This will provide a positive foundation for your organization as you begin the process.
Seeing this as a solid opportunity rather than a challenge is a huge asset. It will help shift that paradigm and bring you into this brave new world.