In my first post on this subject I listed four things every business needs to consider before it enters the blogosphere. Today, I want to add one more. Here it is…
Companies need to determine whether they are prepared to engage the conversation without attempting to control the communication.
The blogosphere is a no-holds-barred free-for-all means of communicating. It’s a two-way street. By that I mean readers can respond to what you’ve said via the comments option, and their responses may not always be kind. In fact, depending on their experience with your company and its products or services, they may even be caustic. Not every organization is prepared for such raw unedited content to show up on their public website (blog).
At the recent Ad:Tech event held in Chicago marketers showed ambivalence toward using blogs for this very reason. They liked the SEM benefits blogs can provide, but seemed reluctant to embrace them wholeheartedly for fear of negative interaction. They valued the power of blogs for word-of-mouth marketing, but were dubious of the bad publicity that could come from negative comments showing up on their blog.
I believe before your company determines to jump into the blogosphere, it must be willing to accept the good with the bad and have a plan for addressing those less than congratulatory comments.
There are several options available. You can chose to leave the comments feature turned off. As a rule, I would personally advise against that. As I mentioned, the beauty of blogs is that they are designed for interaction. Blogs are all about conversation between the blogger and readers. To turn comments off is to say to readers “We don’t value your input.” It’s not an option I would choose under most circumstances.
Second, you can delete negative comments. Again, that’s something I’d advise against. Not only does it smack of controlling the communication, it is an attempt to sanitize your blog, purging it of what might prove to be valuable commentary. It won’t take readers long to catch on to this feigned PR-esque ploy, the result being they don’t come back.
Here’s what I would suggest: Take the comments at face value. If it’s obvious the commenter is just trying to flame you, then delete it. However, if the comment is salient and addresses a real issue, it’s in your best interest to deal with it giving the commenter the benefit of the doubt.
Respond to the commenter via email and tell them you value their feedback. (Most blog platforms will send you a copy of the comment in an email along with the person’s email address to which you can hit the “reply” button and respond.) Open a dialogue with them. If you’re successful, you’ll turn an enemy into a friend. If you do that, then go to your blog and talk about how you worked with the person to turn things around. Maybe even include a quote from them. Personally, I don’t know of better PR than that!
Now, I don’t want to overhype this issue. Most comments won’t be of the negative variety. Many will come in the form of questions, and others will have a positive spin to be sure. From a PR standpoint, blogs can serve you well as they lend credence to the notion that you do value what your customers and others have to say. They put a human face on your company that no other form of internet communication can.
Nevertheless, blogs are a very human and direct form of interaction. When you set up a public blog – and I hope you will – there is risk involved, and you need to steel yourself for when that time comes.
To conclude, the fact is people are already talking about you on their own blogs, in chat rooms, message boards, and via IM. You need to engage the conversation. A blog is a great way to do that.
In my next post, I’m going to roll out the remaining five things you need to do before you blog. Come back tomorrow for that one!