Blogger Outreach: 8 Tips for Managing Brand Promoters & Detractors


Today, I posted an interview with Melody Overton, on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix.  Melody is a non-profit lawyer who lives in Seattle. She has been running Starbucks Melody, an unofficial Starbucks fan blog since 2008.  I met Melody in a recent twitter chat, and was intrigued to know more about her brand advocacy for Starbucks and her mission as a dedicated fan blogger. You can check out that article as a precursor to reading this one, if you like, but it's not absolutely necessary.

Lately, I've been talking to more than my share of companies attempting to deal with online brand detractors and fans - especially bloggers. After all, they're not all as positive as Melody.  Without question, I feel the inclusion of the blogosphere in a Customer Listening Program is key to getting a handle on brand buzz. However, brands must do more than just monitor if they wish to encourage the efforts of brand evangelists, and neutralize (or even turn around) brand detractors.

Can detractors be turned around?  Well, Right Now (a client - disclosure) reports that 92% of consumers said they would be willing to go back to a brand after a negative experience if they simply:
  • Received a follow up apology/correction from a supervisor/head office
  • Were offered a discount
  • Were offered proof of enhanced customer service
In a day and age where an average of 1560 people *may* hear about your customer experience failures, turning those detractors around can be a powerful thing.  But going beyond detractors, brands must also consider the power unsanctioned brand promoters have today.  We live in a post-Enron era, where consumer confidence is much higher for people than it is for brands. So, beyond neutralizing detractors, fortifying relationships with unofficial brand evangelists is should be a highly compelling focus.

I started thinking about how hard it is for many companies to know where to start when dealing with vocal, online, unsanctioned brand evangelists (and haters!).   Then today -- sitting in a hotel lobby,  I came up with Eight Tips for Managing Vocal, Digital Customers.  This places an emphasis on bloggers, intentionally, although there are plenty of vocal customers in many different social channels. I talk about some of those, too.  While I'm sure it's not exhaustive, I hope it's a good start and that you'll add your comments and feedback.

1. Survey the Landscape.
Conduct an analysis of the unofficial blogs and other destinations that show up on Google, Bing and Yahoo where people are talking about your brand. You might want to dig several pages deep into the search results a bit, or use creative terms like " sucks" or "I love ".  If you use reputation management software like Radian6 or Techrigy, this exercise becomes easier and more robust, allowing you can look at volume, traffic and number of mentions. You can even search for mentions by the same individual (by name or handle) across destinations, and identify trends for location, persona, sentiment, etc. As you find these digital hubs, you'll also begin to find your most vocal brand detractors and advocates.  

As you survey the landscape, I recommend adding the blogs you find to an RSS Reader, like Google Reader. This will help you track and access these blogs in the future.  Second, I recommend cataloging these sites in a comparison grid that records the name, link, number of pages, author information, domain information, contact information (and/or link) and many of the considerations I'll ask you to make below, so you'll have it readily available later on.  Creating a private Google spreadsheet works well, especially if you've got more than one person working on the assessment, or if you want to share the spreadsheet:  

2. Assess the Content.
Now examine the blog's content to assess quality, quanity, frequency of posting, activity and accuracy.  Add scores for these items to your grid, if you like. If the site isn't graphically beautiful, don't assume it isn't influential.  There are plenty of highly active, well trafficked ugly sites on the web.  Read the posts (especially any "most popular" content, if it's available to you) and how frequently the author posts.  Check out activity on posts - are there a ton of comments?  How do the posts score on Google?  Is the content syndicated on other sites, like Facebook or LinkedIn?

Most of the time, what you find on a site is merely speculation or criticism that may be otherwise present in traditional and digital channels.  In these cases, it’s probably not hurting anyone and you'll be forced to ask whether any misinformation warrants your attention or not.  If you do find significant misinformation, copyright issues or other infractions, reaching out first with a friendly, positive note or comment that addresses the misinformation usually goes far to remedy the situation. It also shows that your brand is listening and can help hold the author accountable in the future.

If you find a blog is giving out routine misinformation, stands in violation of copyright or trademark laws, or if someone has gotten a hold of insider trading information or sensitive information, it may be a serious problem. You'll want to address any serious problems with legal counsel, and resolve any leaks inside your company directly.  As merited, the brand can push harder using legal means to correct the misuse of intellectual property or brand assets, malice, slander or misinformation that can negatively impact the brand..  

By spending a little time, it's possible to sort through active posts for new ideas, trends, areas of specific concern or passion.  This may stimulate new ideas, or draw the brand's attention to new areas for exploration. The blog's content may stimulate questions on the part of the brand, as well. For example, spending time looking through StarbucksMelody's blog, for example, you'll find a ton of comments and activities around Starbucks Mug collections as well as terrific feedback about the recent logo change. 

3. Generally Classify Sentiment.  
I'm not a fan of sentiment rankings using software because they rely on natural language queries that can be inaccurate. As you attempt to weigh sentiment, therefore, I encourage a lot of sampling, digging and reading. Many sites contain a "mixed bag" of feedback - and it's important to get a feel for the character and nature of each one in order to be fair minded about your future outreach or approach to them.  Note the overall personality of the blog.  Is it fun, irreverent, evangelistic, snarky or mean-spirited?  How has it changed over time?  On your grid, you can align the sites to a sentiment ranking on a spectrum from 1-5, positive to negative, adding notes and disclaimers as needed.

As you assess sentiment, you will also begin to identify individuals (authors, commentators) that are more  active and vocal than others.  Catalog these individuals on your grid is important, as well.  While manually, it can be difficult to get an accurate handle on the most vocal -- but you'll  begin to notice trends (both positive and negative) in tone and pattern over time. Using reuptation monitoring software can help you examine the content a single individual has left, over time and across digital "hubs".  If possible, probe into their histories of the most prominent individuals with your company and find out about their past experiences with your brand.  For example, if an individual is a high profile brand detractor who has been offended, and no amends have been made -- maybe there's room for relationship repair. 

4. Examine Potential "Influence."  
I was going to stay away from this term because of the way it is used and misused in social media circles today.  However. influence, as a measure of how much of an impact an individual *may* have on your target audience, is exactly what we're trying to get a handle on here.  Unfortunately, there is no magic tool or formula that will accurately tell you how much influence an individual may have - and an individual's influence is likely to shift and change over time.

Nevertheless, it's important to attempt to understand the following, level of engagement, voice and following a brand evangelist or detractor has.  If an individual has started a blog with successful and significant following (as measured by traffic, social following, mentions, search engine listings), they're more likely to be more influential than say, a regular commentator on a blog.  If they've successfully kicked off a movements, like a boycott or event -- or if they've influenced "trending" or created a "critical mass" of comments or activity on a digital hub, they're likely to have some influence. If they are a notable public personality or "friends" with notable public personalities, they may carry more influence. What you're trying to do here is determine who has more critical mass -- and potential influence for, or against your brand online.  You can align an individual's potential influence rankings on your grid on a 1-5 spectrum, as well.  Just keep in mind that influence tends to shift and change over time, sometimes very rapidly.

If you aren't using a Reputation Management tool, there are a myriad of free tools that can help you examine the influence of brand promoters and detractors. Check out blog traffic on compare.com or Alexa.  See if there's an active Twitter or Facebook following but keep in mind that it's easy to "buy" followers -- and a large following is not an indicator of influence. Look for the level of mutual  engagement the individual has with their online audience, and how engaged the individual's audience is.  You can do this by looking for active dialog on the blog, as well other social sites. You may examine retweets (RT's), comments and mentions over time.

I'm not a big fan of using Klout to measure "influence," for a number of reasons. However, seeing if a brand detractor or promoter has a Klout Score is one way of examining how socially engaged a person is.  An individual's level of social engagement may indeed be a greater indication of influence. Use all the tools at your disposal, plus your own common sense, to develop a high level understanding of how influential your promoters and detractors may be. This will give you a better understanding of the potential influence these individuals have, and help you prioritize your outreach approach.

5. Sort & Prioritize.  
Examine your grid and add an "Action" and "Priority" column.  Put notations on any site or individual that requires follow up with any critical issues that require immediate attention. Prioritize the rest and align the most appropriate response to each outpost or individual on the list.  For example, your "Action" column may include next steps like "Contact Legal", "Send Friendly Correction Note", "Leave Comment on " , "Thank You eMail", "Make Amends".  You may want to add certain individuals or blog sites (as some blogs have multiple authors) into a Campaign, such as a "Neutralize Detractors" campaign.  You might want to "Add to Blogger Outreach Program", which brings me to my next point.

6. Plan Your Outreach. 
A good blogger outreach program focuses on encouraging and fueling the activities of brand advocates while turning around or neutralizing brand detractors. It should not - and I repeat NOT - consist of merely adding the bloggers to the distribution list for your press releases or including them on a list of bad PR pitches that fail to consider their unique bent, interests or angle.  The latter, in fact, is likely to make you the butt of a joke instead of the recipient of praise.  Instead, a good blogger outreach program is heavily goal and objective driven, and sufficiently focused on both detractors and promoters, and is accompanied by measures that will help quantify outcomes.

Approaching detractors is best done on a case-by-case basis and is generally a very "high touch" activity.  Before approaching detractors, it's essential consider that  lending a brand's official response may elevate attention to a blogger's cause, and a poor response may escalate a volatile situation.  Two examples of this include Amazon's recent response to a book for pedophiles as well as the "Motrin Moms" scandal.  In some cases, a response is warranted and timeliness is critical - in other cases, saying nothing (or little) may be in order.  In general brands often benefit by demonstrating actively listening and a willingness to positive and negative feedback, as Domino's Pizza Turnaround Campaign reflects.  In some cases, however, some bloggers are proud of the distinction they have earned by being detractors, and have no intention of turning things around.  There are a number of different cases to consider.  This is why developing a decision and response tree that includes an escalated path for crisis management for dealing with detractors is critical to a successful outreach program.

Approaching brand advocates is certainly more happy business.  In general, blogger outreach programs are listening focused, personal, transparent (to the degree that brands can be) and not overly "sell" or "self" focused can create healthy connections with brand advocates that generate even more positive and more accurate dialog.  Giving bloggers a personal contact inside the organization (or an email address where they can ask questions) can create an open, healthy dialog that mitigates risk and allows individuals to conduct fact checks with the brand.  Touching base periodically with bloggers makes it easier to spread the word about new developments, products and activities that are relevant to them. This can be done by email, phone, through online events (e.g. web conferences) and real-world events.  Bloggers are always looking for inspiring new content to write about. However, it's important not to be perceived as hijack or control the content on a blogger's site and to always express gratitude for positive and negative feedback.

When it's appropriate, brands may also send test product or incentives to blog about. Larger brands have been doing blogger focused campaigns for years. For example, Ford's Fiesta Movement and Global Drive Event are two, highly popular campaigns.  Just remember that such provisions (trips, perks, samples, product, etc.) must be actively disclosed by the bloggers based on FCC regulations.

6. Engage! 
You don't have to wait for a fully initiated plan to engage with brand promoters or detractors.  This is where common sense comes in.  Working within the conscience and communications policies of your company, you might just consider dropping certain authors an email, or leave a comment on the blog. Thank the author for posts that properly represent the brand. Make your presence known! Your brand's participation doesn’t necessarily “endorse” the blog but shows you are paying attention and that you are engaged. This almost always lends credibility to brands with the engaged audience.  You don’t have to comment on every post or piece of misinformation. Stick up for the brand and clarify when necessary but don’t dive into a hornet's nest of contention unless it's absolutely necessary.

7. Monitor and Measure.
As I've mentioned repeatedly, listening is key but measuring the success of your outreach program is also important.  I'm a big fan of monitoring technologies such as Radian 6 and Techrigy as well as business intelligence and data mining tools like Clarabridge (disclosure, this is another client).  Use social monitoring tools to keep an eye on the blogs focused on your brand. Take a deeper look at natural language trending to get a finger on the pulse of your extended community. Keep your grid updated, and be sure you're measuring outcomes, such as increases in mentions by topic, increasing positive mentions, detractor conversions, etc.  Your individual measures should tie directly to the objectives you assembled for your blogger outreach plan and be as measurable as possible, and will be customized for your company based on your goals and objectives. 

8.  Learn & Respond! 
 Remember that while you may have your own channels and tools to measure the pulse of customers -- the people that gravitate there may not be the same people who gravitate to other digital outposts where your brand is discussed.  Keep an open mind, open eyes and you just may learn something new, and be prepared to respond by adding something new, enhancing your experience, etc.  For example, Starbucks recently responded to their vocal online and offline audience by making Wifi free.  The action your brand takes will often speak more loudly than your words.  There’s a lot to be learned from the free-expression of your customers on unsanctioned sites and blogs. You might be surprised at the ideas you find, and the new relationships you may build that can tell you something about your audience you didn't know.

So there you have it.  Eight tips for dealing with Brand Promoters and Detractors, with an emphasis on bloggers... drafted hastily in the lobby of a Santa Cruz hotel.  Your input -- additions, comments are most certainly welcome and appreciated!

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LEIGH DURST

LEIGH DURST
I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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