Brands Battle Online Badvocates

Discussion
Nov 02, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

At General Motors, a social media team of
six employees patrols the web, tweeting, updating Facebook, and sometimes
commenting on personal blogs to combat negative comments on their company.
GM, along with other companies, is also meeting with bloggers to diffuse
issues. Some are encouraging brand fans to write positive blogs.

“Badvocates,” or critics who regularly trash
corporate reputations, represent 20 percent of the world’s adult population
online and each one reaches an estimated 14 people with their opinions,
according to public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

At GM, one scathing post on WebInkNow.com by David Meerman
Scott, former vice president of marketing for Knight-Ridder,
drew over 20 comments from other GM bashers. GM wound up inviting Mr. Scott,
who has 29,000 Twitter followers, to Detroit and encouraged him to log
the details of the trip and post video clips of interviews with CEO Fritz
Henderson and other executives. It’s part of a plan to assure influential
bloggers have accurate information about the car maker.

In July, GM also launched AskFritz.org, a
site where consumers can leave gripes or ask questions for Mr. Henderson.
The site provides an outlet for GM to respond to critics who might be posting
comments elsewhere on the web.

Airlines, who regularly face online critics
on trip-planning sites and Twitter, are likewise tracking social media.
For instance, when New York’s LaGuardia Airport terminal closed due to
a bomb threat, American Airlines posted notices on its website and sent
a tweet to its followers on Twitter. It also leaves information on lost
baggage and canceled flights on its Facebook site.

Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick,
told Forbes that the key
is to at least be aware of online criticism to gauge whether to react or
comment before it mushrooms. United Airlines, for example, could have avoided
a viral video this past July, when country singer Dave Carroll wrote a
song about his guitar being smashed in transport.

GM blogger Mr. Scott said he now is more likely
to talk to companies first to get information and comments and recommends
that all big corporations respond to bloggers who bash their brands. “It’s
easy for a blogger to see a company as a faceless entity,” said Mr. Scott. “We
need to know there are real people out there.”

Discussion Questions:
What should consumer brands and retailers do about online badvocates?
Is combating online bashing as critical an issue for retailers and
consumer brands as industries such as auto and airlines?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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21 Comments on "Brands Battle Online Badvocates"


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David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Anonymity makes “badvocating” user-friendly for “badvocates.” However, companies cannot be afraid and they must remain proactive and “smart” about the publicity. What I advise my branded clients to do is to have a fairly standard response prepared for the most common negative comments. Don’t hide! Respond online with full identity. In most cases, you will win back your credibility, and maybe even gain some! And the “badvocates” will often back off anyway because they got attention from you that they didn’t really anticipate.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

This question is asked in such an interesting way…”How critical is it for consumer brands to combat criticism online?”

If 20% of the population is taking part in “brand-bashing,” doesn’t that imply that perhaps at least some of their criticisms are valid? This data is telling us 20% of adults have bad enough experiences that they take the time to write about it to their friends and relatives. That’s a LOT of people. You can’t spin that away. You have to fix it at its root.

Perhaps the solution remains the same–“improve service levels.”

We believe strongly that the web gives brands an opportunity to put their finger on the pulse of consumer sentiment. Technologies are available to support aggregating this information and turning it into a psychographic.

The real question is, “Can consumer brands continue to get away with sub-par products and services in an internet world?” And the answer is no.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

It’s not that companies need to combat online comments, they need to engage and have dialogues with consumers. Some comments are going to be negative and others positive. Not every comment warrants a response. Companies need to show consumers that they are listening. Trying to dominate critics is almost as bad as not responding at all.

Anne Howe
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

This PR mainstay is right in line with the old adage, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” and is proved out time and time again as a valid strategy. The trick is in the implementation, which in some cases can fall short and create a huge backfire effect. If your company decides to deploy this strategy, you must be fully on board and really ready to open your doors, your closets and your mouth. I support it fully, having lived through numerous success stories when I worked in the PR business.

Today, it’s even a more essential communications strategy for most companies. The savvy ones are already on board but there’s a long way to go for many, especially the classic CPG organizations.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 6 months ago

The worst thing a company can do is NOT respond to any online postings about their product or service. I like GM’s approach. Albeit a bit over the top, they are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to PR so I wouldn’t expect anything less from them. Retailers and merchants should respond to bad comments asking for specific details and offering solutions to rectify any problems. I’m finding that when you challenge the ‘badvocate’, you can easily flush out the comments that have no merit.

Think of the internet as a giant customer service desk and retailers can easily address and correspond with people that have had problems with them. Your customer service should extend outside your doors if you are serious about maintaining your public image.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

First, don’t ignore this or assume that this is a passing fad. Over one third of bloggers post opinions about products or brands. And while almost 8 in 10 consumers trust peer recommendations, only 1 in 7 trust advertisements. Because of the speed in which these social networks enable communications, “word of mouth” takes on a new and profound meaning.

Second, social networks are like the digital “back yard fence.” People are having conversations about things that are on their minds–both good and bad.

Third, rather than fear these networks, recognize that their greatest advantage is enhanced customer knowledge. In the final analysis, the better you know your customer and what they really think about your offerings, the better your business will perform.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
11 years 6 months ago

It’s all about transparency these days. Don’t hide from the negative comments. In fact, maybe you can learn from them. But you can’t respond to every twit with a computer.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Traditional services research indicates that disgruntled consumers tell 10-14 people about their experience and satisfied consumers tell about half that number. Now that a blog is a way of communicating to “friends” or the universe, those numbers will change. Traditional services research says that a consumer whose complaint is addressed quickly and well is likely to become a loyal consumer.

Absolutely, companies should be monitoring and responding to blogs and other social media comments. In addition, they should try engaging those consumers.

Warren Thayer
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Badvocates are bullies. Bullies are cowards. Cowards back down when confronted.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Simple answer? Best to ignore them. They aren’t going away and attention just makes them look more legitimate.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 6 months ago
While I agree that negative blogging requires regular monitoring and occasional response, I’d caution companies against elevating some amateur commentators above their deserved credibility. Some online critics check their facts and make a responsible effort to preserve their own reputations. Others lack principles or skill. Giving much attention to the latter group is a waste of resources–except where legal action is required, as in instances of libel. The rare individual blogger who succeeds in building a large following may be deserving of special access for just the same reason why an influential journalist is. Once access is won, the journalist is reluctant to lose it, and hence is less likely to publish unsubstantiated negative reports and more likely to check facts with the company. I must say it is remarkable how so many individuals in the blog-o-sphere have taken on the “consumer advocate” mantle. Combined with the phenomenon of online product ratings, this speaks to the extent to which we remain a consumption culture. Since the advent of the Web, online dialog about brands has… Read more »
Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 6 months ago

With the growing spread of the “voice of the customers” and the perceived impact of social/mobile media, companies will need to address this in real time or else suffer the consequences.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Paula’s right. And social media represent an opportunity for brands to communicate directly with consumers, without using the press and other third-party communicators.

It would be interesting to know how many consumers bash brands online because they have been unable to get through voice mail jail to locate someone at corporate who can rectify a bad situation. Companies might want to examine their ability to communicate with, not at, unhappy customers.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

I agree with Ryan. Ignore them and just run a good company. If some company has six full-time employees scanning the web to see what is being said about them on those childish blogs and social networks, that is being paranoid.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

You do the same thing you should be doing every day–strictly enforcing the guidelines of your brand, especially where it touches consumers. I’ve always thought that having a successful brand is a lot like leadership; no matter what you do, your popularity is going to be a bell curve. Some people love you and some people hate you but if you’re doing your job well, the vast majority of people will fall in the middle.

In a brand’s case, that would mean enjoying interaction with said brand enough that they’ll come back…and enough that they’ll let you know what they think.

Michael Boze
Guest
Michael Boze
11 years 6 months ago

I think knowing what is being said about your company is part of your marketing intelligence efforts. I could foresee this as a commercial service for smaller companies.

Is how to treat the malicious blogger problematic? How do you separate the trash talking from good feedback on things your company needs to address?

I would like to hear readers’ reactions to both situations.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

There is not a one-size-fits-all rule for responding to negative posts about your company and its products. The first task is to find them as soon as possible, of course. This is not always done effectively. Kraft Australia was able to find real-time consumer sentiment about their product in question across 1.5 billion posts in 38 languages. (http://bit.ly/1VdqaK) I’d challenge the six people at GM to do that manually.

The next step is to determine the response to the negative post. Discrediting a statement that is not based upon fact is more addressable, than a statement based upon opinion. Creating direct responses with alternative, positive views can help extinguish the fire. Other comments that are obviously malicious in nature should be ignored and as time passes, those comments will typically fall to the bottom of the string. If it pops back up, face it head-on and ask the community to weigh in with opposing (positive) views.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

Boy, comments all over the place on this one, which I suppose reflects a relatively new and ambiguous issue. Curiously, though, nobody seems concerned about the possibility of some/many/most of the criticisms against a company/brand being valid; perhaps it was the way the question was presented–the implication being that we’re dealing with professional bashers rather than legitimate grievances–but I would hope the issue concerns the quality control department as well as the PR department.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
11 years 6 months ago

When I read comments that refer to “childish blogs,” or hear people speak about social networks with a voice of disdain, it makes me realize that there are still people who haven’t accepted the fact that the world has changed, and the power is in the hands of the consumers, not the brand owners.

Brands that choose to ignore the blogs and the social network postings will not have to worry about hiring six people to surf the internet for comments; their brands will disappear in a very short period of time. Think it’s impossible? Tell that to Worldcom, Lehman Bros., Pan Am, Eastern Airlines, Saturn, Oldsmobile…and the list goes on.

Brands die, no matter the size of the company. If you stop listening to the consumer, the consumer stops engaging with your brand. Pretty basic stuff…that so many simply don’t understand.

Mark Burr
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

You could simply ignore them, right? You could label them as ‘not a legitimate blog organization’ and urge others to ignore them, right?

Sure, they can be bullies, cowards and the like. Companies without an effective strategy to monitor and effectively address them are likely making a mistake. GM rarely does anything right. They did, however, do the right thing in this case.

New mediums require new strategies. I’m surprised that GM has only six people in this area. The term ‘bad press’ is working its way into oblivion. What’s the term for bad blogging? Badvocates doesn’t quite get at it for me.

It’s a whole new ballgame in corporate communications. My inclination is that likely 90% are way behind the game.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Guest
Gary Edwards, PhD
11 years 6 months ago
It’s impossible to prevent all online criticisms, but your approach should be to minimize these discussions and address them immediately before they can spread. Too many times the first time a company hears about a complaint is after it has gone viral and is impossible to stop. Don’t let that be you. Know Your Weaknesses. Start out by assessing your areas of strength and weakness. Proactively engage your customers through real discussions and customer feedback mechanisms. If you know what piece of your business is most apt to cause frustration, you can be on the lookout for those complaints and proactively work to address the problem. Monitor the Conversation. Your brand is currently being discussed online so you need to be out monitoring the conversations. Recently, United was caught by surprise when a traveler wrote a song about his missing bags. The video went viral and he appeared on everything from Good Morning America to Business Week. If your first inkling of a problem is when the story appears on a national morning show, you… Read more »
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