Controlling the Social Conversation

It’s a dichotomy that we’re facing in social media marketing. On the one hand, it’s been said time and time again that social media marketing is about relinquishing control: learn to let go and let your customers do the talking for you.

On the other hand, marketers want to control the message. The whole point of marketing is to shine a product in a certain light and make sure that the conversations about the product are dictated according to the brand strategy – perhaps a bring-over from the days when the democratization of consumers was not a reality.

How do we bridge this divide between social media and marketing?

Control the Forum

The conversations that occur in any setting, both offline and online, are shaped by the setting and it is important to get this right. A few questions to ask yourself:

  1. If one were to join this conversation or community, what would the name of the community entice me to start talking about?
  2. What can I start seeding or sharing on the community to steer the conversations towards something I want my consumers to start talking about?
  3. What utility will my consumers derive from the conversations on the site? Will they be looking for help? Are they looking for a direct communications channel with my brand?

As a real-world example, our agency recently created an interactive microsite for a technology client with an accompanying Facebook fan page.

Early on, the decision was made to tie the fan page to the microsite instead of the overall brand umbrella. However, we discovered early on that the conversations on the fan page started centering themselves on the microsite that we had created rather than the product itself.

We then quickly shifted the focus of the page by steering the editorial content of the page, crafting our replies to comments to bring in more product mentions, and developing a mechanic to encourage members to talk more about the product itself – most importantly, without ignoring the conversations that were already happening on the site.

Be Humble, but Firm With Troublemakers

Anyone who has done any work in managing communities will have come across this problem before – an errant member of the community will start posting all kinds of nasty posts and conversations about your brand. Tread carefully. There are generally two kinds of negative commentators:

  1. Genuine complaints: To be clear, these aren’t really troublemakers but users with a genuine gripe about the brand who want to be heard. It is crucial that you recognize this, as branding them as trolls will spell catastrophe for your brand! To deal with them, you have to get to the root of their discontent and solve their problem – and these types of folks will usually have the potential to become your most ardent evangelist if you deal with them properly.
  2. “Trolls” in Internet speak are people whose sole purpose in a forum is to get a negative reaction from the community by posting negative or outright bigoted comments in a community. They could be shady competitors, or teens with too much time on their hands, but regardless, these breeds are spotted easily even by other consumers of your brand, and you should find it easy to start a groundswell of support to politely (but firmly) address the trolls and take steps to ban them. However, it is very critical to be very transparent about how you do this to the other members of the community.

Wrapping Up

In this column, I’ve talked about only two facets of conversations. However, there is a common thread, which is to approach conversations as you would approach a group of consumers in real life. Conversations in real life and online are not much different with a few key exceptions – the illusion of anonymity online gives consumers a louder more daring voice, and the medium of the Internet allows for amplification of that voice for better or worse.

The key takeaway then is to approach with forethought, and control the forum of discussion much like a moderator would in a panel to craft your brand message, but do not try to control individual conversations or discussions themselves. With this philosophy driving your brand communications in social media, you can start taking advantage of this powerful communications platform.

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