Published: February 06, 2014 | Comments
Perception is Reality
Social media has changed the game and put the customer in charge of the way we do business. To quote Intuit’s co-founder, Scott Cook, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” This statement is proved true every day in the social media sphere. It is within social media that consumers reach consensus on companies, their products, the way they do business, and the business decisions they make.
The power of social media consensus building has been demonstrated to full effect in Egypt, with an uprising in 2011 that toppled two governments and put that nation into a state of unrest that remains to this day. Social media alone did not cause this sea change in Egyptian society, but it did serve as a catalyst and an accelerant.
So, if social media can change nations, how can we hope to simply stay in business when customers’ sentiment turns against our product, our brand, in short … us? The answer is simple: we must listen to and engage with our customers in the social sphere, 24/7/365. Make no mistake, what is happening among people in social is real, and the conclusions reached by consumers within the social sphere have concrete effects and measurable consequences. A business must be engaged in the ongoing social conversation in order to learn what the consumer is thinking, feeling and desiring. The social media realm is truly a place where what you don’t know can hurt you.
The dangers that come with being behind the curve on social media engagement are many. Failing to engage or engaging in a half-hearted way will result in damage to your brand, can create the perception of your company as out-of-touch or uncaring and, perhaps worst of all, could bring on the Rashomon Effect.
The Rashomon Effect
The Rashomon effect refers to the classic film by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, based on the short story In a Grove by Ryuunosuke Akutagawa. In the story, a crime is witnessed by four different people, each of whom describe the event in a different way, and sometimes, even, contradicting the others’ accounts. In the social media realm, customers can promulgate multiple interpretations of your intentions, your policies, your products or your brand throughout the social sphere, and none of them will be completely correct, accurate, or useful. This is Scott Cook’s pronouncement at its worst.
At (mt) Media Temple we realized early on that we face both a danger and an opportunity in social media, so we jumped in and seized the opportunity. We quickly began to develop a set of tactics for handling aggrieved tweeters and found that by maintaining a sincere presence in the social sphere, we were able to largely mitigate the Rashomon Effect. Our early experiences helped us enormously in the fall of 2013 when GoDaddy, a much larger company, acquired us. We anticipated a backlash from our customers because of some well-publicized missteps by GoDaddy’s former leadership. The new leadership has since gotten the company on the proper footing, but the poor perception remained.
“It’s Go Time”
To prepare for the anticipated uproar in social media, we formed a Social Media Crisis Team. This group was comprised of members from our Twitter support, PR, social marketing and Community teams and Leadership. Our goal was to respond to every tweet mentioning us and GoDaddy, positive or negative, and thereby take an active role in shaping the public perception of the acquisition. We met prior to the the big day and went over some general talking points that we would use to guide us, but insisted on shying away from scripted or canned answers.
When the announcement was made, the reaction was enormous. We responded to 7,000 of the 17,000 tweets that came in about the acquisition. We did not address every single tweet, per our strategy; we ignored repeats, retweets, quotes and links to articles and kept our efforts focused on engagement with real people. We found that by making the effort to communicate honestly and openly, we garnered a lot of positive sentiment from customers and non-customers alike. By the end of day one, action on Twitter had reduced to only a few dozen an hour, a volume that our regular Tweetologists could handle with ease. By the end of day two, Twitter traffic was back to normal.
After the initial surge, we saw additional floods of traffic as audiences in Europe, Asia, and Oceania awoke and received the news. This is where our 24/7 social media approach came to the rescue. Our evening and overnight agents were able to manage the regular volume of traffic on our Twitter accounts and the Social Media Crisis Team stayed late into the night to assist in keeping our effort afloat. In stating our case and shaping the narrative well into the evening, we won the battle for information that day as the Twitter storm quieted and we were able to get our story out there.
Our round-the-clock presence and proactive stance in the aftermath of the acquisition reassured our customers, strengthened our reputation for transparency, and let us turn the facts of our business decision into the prevailing narrative of the day. We avoided the Rashomon Effect by stepping into the fray and telling our story consistently, and in different voices, all projecting a positive, confident tone. As an added bonus, our brand and our story became available to Twitter users engaging us and their vast network of followers. On the day of the acquisition, (mt) Media Temple was among the top ten trending keywords on all of Twitter.
Principles and Priorities
The story above is an example of social media engagement in a crisis, but this basic model applies to day-to-day 24/7 social media work. At (mt) Media Temple, our social media teams operate under four general principles:
- Be quick
- Be personable
- Engage 100%
- Give back
These simple guidelines serve us well because they are specific while still allowing flexibility for use in the real-time world of social media engagement.
It is not enough to simply have a presence in social media. In order to reap the benefits and avoid the perils of the social media realm, you must fully commit to engagement at a high level of candor, clarity and communication, all day, every day.