Sorry Britney. Sorry Will.I.Am, this one ain’t about you.
It’s about online communities. And an online community’s uncanny ability to... well, scream and shout.
The stories of community managers feeling the wrath of their angry communities have been well documented over the last few weeks. Applebees, Makers Mark, FTD Flowers, Belvedere Vodka, and DKNY have all suffered at the keyboards of angry social media users (@brittanyshaw_ posted a roundup here).
In some examples, the steps taken by the community managers led to the fury subsiding quickly. Other community managers have suffered unnecessarily, displaying baffling behaviour (*cough*, Applebees). However, it’s the behaviour of the community members in each case that posed the biggest questions for me. Why all the noise? And what have we learned from these incidents we can apply to our own communities?
On the first question, I don’t mean that the original issues which spurred community members to broadcast their disdain were insignificant. I’ve simply been surprised by the sheer volume of duplicate and almost verbatim posts aimed at these brands by community members.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In my own experience, a community member who has made the transition from lurker to contributor will often ask a similar question, or echo the sentiments of a previous contributor. It doesn’t matter if the issue has been addressed and resolved by the community manager already. It’s common, identifiable behaviour.
But where there’s a complaint, what’s the community member’s motivation to behave in this way? A desire to feel part of something bigger? A blatant disregard for anything the community manager says when not directly mentioned? A selfless display to improve the overall customer experience for their peers? (Yeah, right!) Here’s my best guess:
A community member with a complaint doesn’t care about another community member and their problems. Even if their queries are identical and if the first has already been addressed by the community manager. They simply want to know they are being listened to and to be responded to with within a reasonable amount of time.
And most have a point. Besides content updates and occasional off topic discussion, why should interacting with a brand’s Facebook or Twitter be different to calling the contact centre? Some brands are already using their community pages in this way. Some empowered community managers have been given powerful tools to resolve issues and avert social media disasters such as those of Applebee’s et al. (@gingeranderson outlines the strategy of Southwest Airlines).
But what has the behaviour taught us that we can use when contingency planning for a Twitter storm or Facebook backlash?
Firstly, of a press release apologising for an error is no longer an acceptable response. Those days are long gone. Nowadays, a general response to multiple queries is often not the best approach; however, it can be effective if used in three ways:
- An initial statement of apology.
- An acknowledgment of the issue.
- A request to those aggrieved to contact an emergency inbox for further assistance.
In these ways, a general response can reassure the community they are being listened to and that action is being taken.
But what’s the alternative? A personal response to every community member asking them for information and to contact you directly? Although this approach may be repetitive, time consuming and not always possible, in my experience it’s worth the effort. A friendly response in the right tone of voice to even the unhappiest community member can turn complaints into endorsements. An ignored community member will never be a happy community member.
And afterwards, don’t forget the community members who had your back! Taking time to thank advocates for their interactions is essential. It'll undoubtedly help to prolong the health of the community. A prominent community member who feels valued and acts as an authority is indispensable. They will answer queries, reinforce your brand’s values and deal with complaints before they escalate into social disasters.
And my golden rule: never, ever delete posts. As soon as the community gets a hint of censorship, things will go from bad to worse. And besides, you can’t reply to comments that no longer exist.