Brands Battle Online Badvocates
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.”
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?