28 January 2009

Social Media 101: Know your community

Last week, a Page One PR colleague forwarded me a blog post by David Henderson, "How Not to be a Key Online Influencer." The post talks about a PR executive, James Andrews, from Ketchum who flew out to Memphis, TN to visit FedEx, one of the agency's biggest clients. Upon landing, the exec tweeted: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here."

The comment was caught by a FedEx employee who follows Andrews on Twitter. The reaction was NOT pleasant. The employee took great offense and even questioned FedEx's need to retain Ketchum.

I'm sure Andrews would give his two front teeth to take back that tweet, but it's too late – it's gone viral and he can't. I'm sure he learned an important lesson, like don't use open public forums to openly insult your business partners or share overly personal information. But beyond that, it's important to know your community. Why are you there? Who do you want to reach? What do you want to communicate?

That was this PR guy's first mistake: not knowing his audience.

Muhammed Saleem contributed a post to Mashable today outlining how to "Survive a Social Media Revolt." The key takeaways for dealing with large community backlashes:

1) Communicate even if you have nothing to say.

2) Be forthright.

3) Make it clear that you're listening.

4) Acknowledge your mistakes.

5) Promise to learn and improve – then deliver.

In other words, build a decent relationship with your community and show how you value that relationship. Don't put on your "best friends forever" hat one day, then take it off the next. Sounds fair, right?

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