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While the Cougars Ate Dessert
By: Wendy Ogryzek, June Bachman and Teresa Mitchell ~ 12/9/2008

Anyone catch the Apple Cup?  Anyone catch the social media backlash at Motrin while the Cougars sent the Dawgs to their den without apple pie for dessert?  Spawned out of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace the 24/7 feedback loop has given the ad execs at McNeil a real headache.

Here’s the play by play recap of what triggered McNeil’s migraine: 
McNeil launches an ad targeting moms who might be in need of pain relief from carrying their babies in a sling.  Within 48 hours there were YouTube videos admonishing the makers of Motrin for their insensitivity among other things.  The virus spread so fast and gained so much traction from MotrinMoms that McNeil actually took their website offline and re-launched it a few hours later with an apology.  Meanwhile, somewhere in between 24 and 48 hours into this migraine Google was delivering top ten search results for the brand backlash.  (And could still be found in the top ten nearly a week later on November 26, 2008)

In the analysis of the Motrin misstep is two fold.  Obviously, they shouldn’t have moved forward with such an edgy and risky ad without first testing it with focus groups.  But more importantly, they completely dropped the ball by not being aware and subsequently not prepared to handle the massive viral communication backlash facilitated by the social media networks.  The point is … in today’s world, in today’s social media world … words travel faster than the speed of light.  Company reputations can be taken down quickly and swiftly.  Companies, both large and small, must be prepared to better handle these situations, when and as they arise.  Consumer feedback that may have taken weeks or months to gain momentum in years past – become a force of its own in just hours … in today’s social media world.

So – what does a small company need to know regarding reputation management?

1. Reputations are based on perceptions.  Perceptions about:

a. Your company’s character, traits and behaviors
b. Who says what about your company, and how often it is said
c. Your firm’s responsiveness to customer concerns … after the sale!
d. How well your firm “walks your talk”
e. Misunderstandings … when things go right, and when they go wrong
f. Multi-tasking keyboard clicks heard in the background of phone conversations
g. Your firm’s brand … logo and marketing material designs
h. Reactions to blog articles and comments

2.  Small businesses must first focus on establishing a strong and positive reputation – especially in a 24/7 feedback loop.

a. With clients, in person, on the phone, in an email:

    • Ask for feedback in writing
    • Respond to feedback
    • Be honest
    • If there is a conflict ask the client directly the outcome they would like to see
    • Negotiate a mutually agreed upon outcome with the client
    • Take immediate action to solve the problem
    • Don’t hide behind “problem solved”.  Follow up, contact the client to ensure that they are satisfied

b. Online:

    • If a post is incorrect, request that the post be removed from the blog, forum or social medium
    • If the post won’t be removed, calmly and respectfully present your side of the story
    • Explain what actions you have taken
    • Undermine the post by taking the high road.  Contribute to the dialog.  Become an active, respectful participant in the blog’s conversation.
    • Invite the poster to take the conversation offline.
    • If a post is factually correct, though negative in tone – take time to respectfully fill in the blanks

3. Be prepared to respond quickly if things turn negative.

a. If your customers are online … then you should be online too.  Be sure to create accounts in the various social media mediums such as Twitter, You Tube, MySpace, etc.
b. Be ready to respond quickly … by checking the social mediums regularly to see what is being said about your company.
c. NEVER ignore a problem or a crisis.  Respond immediately … be solutions oriented and take action if you need to do so.

In short, it is increasingly more important in today’s social media world to be aware of what is happening online.  Know that although your business may be small … its reputation can be harmed just as much as a large company – and just as quickly via the internet.  Have a plan to participate in the online social media networks … so that you will be poised to influence your online reputation.  And most importantly be positioned to respond swiftly if and as you many need to do so.