Listening is not enough…

‘What ever you do, they’ll talk about you anyway’, is a free translation of a Dutch saying. Still, you’d better know what is being said online about you and your products, services and brands. ‘It doesn’t hurt if I don’t know’ is another translated Dutch saying (anyone knows the English equivalents?). But harm can be done in the blink of an eye. So listening is important, but it doesn’t stop there.
Take Motrin, a painkiller in the USA, two years ago. Immediately after the publication of an ad on the Motrin website on a Saturday (it’s not available anymore, but here’s a description), people responded emotionally through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The majority of them were moms. Before the weekend was over it skyrocketed in the media. The ad agency nor Motrin were aware of the impact of the Social Media turmoil, but damage was already done.

BP’s current attitude towards the environmental catastrophe, which takes place in the Gulf of Mexico, is another example how it should not be handled. BP is mainly silent, doesn’t give a lot of information, and if it does, it’s manipulated. No surprise people have no confidence in how the crisis is handled and they simply don’t trust the company. Why did it take BP 5 weeks before it acknowledged that this is a major environmental catastrophe, where the rest of the world understood this shorty after the oil platform exploded and disappeared in the ocean? Illustrative is the invitation I received the other day from my brother in law to join the Facebook group ‘Boycot BP‘, currently with more that 277,000 fans, amongst them Bill Cosby. Not good for your brand.

Knowing what is being said online is important. Responding is the next. But understand how to respond. Not like Nestlé did recently to Greenpeace, which started an anti-Nestlé campaign referring to the use of palmoil for the production of Kitkat. Palmoil, bought by Nestlé from companies destroying the Indonesian rainforest in order to plant palm trees. Greenpeace made a video and published it on YouTube, which Nestlé enforced to take away from the platform, due to copyright infringement. Fuel for Greenpeace’s campaign unleashing their entire community to spread the word about Nestlé. What if Nestlé had responded less aggressive on this video, or even had ignored it?

Southwest Airlines is doing a better job, although still not perfect. Recently, Southwest refused to take an obese passenger onboard on a domestic flight in the USA. The man, Kevin Smith, a Hollywood director, responded with fury via his Twitter account and in no time the story spread all over the States and was picked up by the media. Southwest Airlines responded rapidly through their own blog (here and here), although not always with the right attitude, resulting in negative publicity. (click here for an earlier article on our blog on this subject).

So, again, listening is important but responding in the right way even more. Responding in such manner that your audience in it’s turn listens to you. ‘Be engaging’, says Brian Solis, a social media expert, whom I recently interviewed at SXSW 2010 in Austin, Texas. ‘In order to be engaging, you need to be believable. And you can only be believable if you’re empathetic towards your audience. Recently, Brian Solis gave an interesting webinar on this subject, organized by Strongmail. And it’s available online. It takes an hour, the audio-quality is moderate, but hey, wasn’t Content King. Enjoy, it’s more than worth it. And if you still want more? Try his book, Engage.

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