Negative communication Managing negative communication stakeholder interactions on owned media channels

By 30 August 2012 Posts


Owned media channels are a critical component of a holistic brand content strategy for any brand. By seeding relevant, engaging brand content on owned media channels, brands are able to act like media, engaging in positive reputation building with their communication stakeholders, positioning the brand as a thought leader, and ensuring continuous quality engagement with the brand’s communication stakeholders.

There is a perception however, that brand content communication channels such as Facebook and Twitter can give a platform for disgruntled communication stakeholders to air the grievances in a public forum, thereby damaging the brand. While this is a risk to some degree, it’s a risk that can be managed and ultimately, even communication interactions that begin negatively can be skillfully managed to ultimately build brand equity through authentic social media dialogue.

The conversation is happening anyway

It’s important to note that when it comes to your brand on social media channels, the conversation is happening anyway. Whether you’re there or not, people are discussing your brand on social media channels. With news sites utilizing Facebook for commenting, your brand is being actively discussed on Facebook right now.

The conversations are there – they’re happening. Without a brand content strategy these conversations start, develop and ultimately play out without your brand having a voice in the conversation, and they’re one-sided. Similarly, on Twitter, right now, people are discussing brands that may not even have an official presence on the channel.

Not being part of the conversation doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening. By having owned media channels and a social media presence, a brand is able to lend its voice to the conversation, engage with stakeholders and influence the discussion by presenting its case.

People value authenticity

Authentic, honest and open dialogue is something that people value from their friends and family, and similarly, from the brands they’re engaged with. When managing a crisis or negative publicity on social media channels, particularly owned media channels, people appreciate authenticity and honesty.

There’s always two sides to any story, and most people want to hear both sides before making up their mind. Having a presence on owned media channels allows for brands to put forward their side of a story on any particular issue in a transparent and authentic way that people appreciate.

Authentic and honest dialogue is important for long-term relationship building. Brands with a long history of engagement and open and honest communication build their reputation positively, encouraging the formation of brand acolytes and creating a substantial amount of brand goodwill.

Managing negative stakeholder interactions: A five-step guideline

On a real, practical level, how does a brand deal with negative stakeholder communications? Here is a five-step guideline for successfully managing negative communications on owned and social media channels.

Step 1: Have a social media policy, guidelines and a crisis management strategy

With potentially multiple people working on a brand’s owned media channels, it’s crucial they’re aligned strategically with the brand’s social media strategy. This ensures social media interactions are internally and externally consistent, done in the correct brand voice, and deliver on the brand’s mandate to positively grow stakeholder interaction. By ensuring that brand engagement with stakeholders are of the same consistent high quality, when negative issues arise, the brand is well positioned to deal with any potential problems.

Step 2: Listen and identify the issue

When a potentially negative comment is posted by a communication stakeholder on an owned or social media platform, the first step is to pause and evaluate the communication. Ignoring it, deleting it straight away, or hastily composing a response can all potentially have deleterious consequences. Social media channels are often subject to emotive tirades, and it frequently takes some effort to discern the nature of the communication. Is the communication constructive criticism, a real or imagined problem, or simply an attack? Determining the nature of the problem is an important first step in adopting the correct approach.

Step 3: Acknowledge the communication and respond quickly

No one likes to be kept waiting and response time is a critically important metric in social media engagement. While most responses require some time to be formulated, structured and vetted, publicly acknowledging that the communication has been seen and is being attended to buys time for an appropriate, measured response and often goes some way to placating the communication stakeholder.

Step 4: Respond appropriately

Ensure the response is appropriate, both in terms of content, delivery and mechanism. For example, some negative stakeholder interactions are best handled via private message if the content or context are sensitive. If the comment is a public challenge on a particular company action, a public response outlining the issues is appropriate. If the comment is factually incorrect, an appropriate response would be to provide the facts in a firm but respectful manner. If the comment is slanderous or an obvious attempt to create controversy, the appropriate response may well be a private communication to the individual in question to engage in dialogue.

Step 5: Manage the ongoing communication

Social media channels work like real social engagement. It’s a dialogue and it may well be ongoing. Be prepared to commit time and resources to manage ongoing conversations with communication stakeholders.

Just like any communication platform, social media and owned media channels have potential to build and protect a company’s reputation, or to damage and harm it. By skillfully managing owned media channels and managing any potential negative stakeholder interactions, the downside risk can be minimized while the potential to positively build stakeholder engagement is maximised.