Social Media is not REactive. It’s PROactive

Last Thursday I had a great meeting with Rohit Bhargava here in San Francisco as he was in town to further promote his book Personality Not Included. During one of our discussions, I happened to bring up the question: “Should brands engage in social media proactively rather than reactively?” It’s interesting that one point that Rohit brought up was that there are some brands (not all of them) that set up accounts on Twitter solely as placeholders – they aren’t using them…no updates of any kind. I understand that it’s all a part of keeping your brand intact across all channels, but if you should be engaging in these channels, shouldn’t you be offering some proof that you care?

Let’s take this past week’s Motrin ad “scandal” – and I say scandal loosely because there are some that disagree with the ad and then there are some that don’t see a issue with the ad. When this ad first hit the airwaves, it was almost immediately the topic of choice for many Twitter folks. But how did Johnson & Johnson (the makers of Motrin) respond? They didn’t…not for at least 24 hours. But rather than being a part of the conversation and helping to show it cares about the community, they instead went onto their site, stripped it of the ad, and sent out an email response. Was this a smart strategic response? Probably not…and why are they not considering more uses of social media. Their communications/PR department team should have been more cognizant of what’s being said about their brand. Yes, it was during a weekend, but the role of someone in public relations, in my opinion, is to protect the integrity of the brand by making sure that the community is informed about the good AND the bad (with what the company is doing to correct the issue) so it shows that the company has a personality and is somewhat concerned for its customer’s well-being.

Social media is an important tool in conversing. With the Motrin example, it was perhaps the worst move to simply delete the ad so long after it had been posted. They must have thought that no one would be upset it was removed, but what they probably should have thought about is whether someone would have the gumption to lift the ad and post it to a more viral channel, like YouTube…which someone did and now the ad is going to live in infamy for much longer than Johnson & Johnson had hoped.

Had Johnson & Johnson started engaging the public through online media, they would probably have had a rapport.  If this rapport had been established, perhaps the proverbial “backlash” would not have been so severe as it was. Instead, people would simply be able to contact the Motrin reps either via some system like Twitter, Facebook, Pownce, etc. and at least help them understand what’s going on. Having no “face” to a company is just more reason for consumers to give harsher feedback, but when people know that there is someone who takes the time to address it, like how Comcast and Network Solutions is doing on Twitter and their site, then folks would probably show more understanding since they feel someone is actually receiving their feedback instead of it going into a blanket inbox.

But let’s not focus on Motrin too much. Instead, here’s an AT&T local issue that even the media is getting involved in. A couple of days ago, Hawaii AT&T customers encountered a startling revelation…their phones ceased to work. For the entire day, the island community was in an uproar trying to figure out what’s going on. There was no word from the company until a few hours later when AT&T decided to post something on their Twitter account. You can read the entire situation from someone who experienced this disaster. AT&T seemed to be on the right track by simply using their social media efforts to communicate what’s going on, even though it was isolated to local communities versus a more global event like Johnson & Johnson experienced. However, they at least were on the job and let people know what’s going on through their online channels.

Having a social media presence is no good if you simply think that pointing to a Twitter account with no updates is sufficient. It’s not. You need to interact and make sure that you are always listening to your constituents and help form a solid community that will hopefully help minimize any harmful feedback and maximize positive responses to your company’s efforts.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."