Recently I wrote a post that outlined the Five Simple Steps to Bringing a Brand to their (Virtual) Knees. I can’t offer you a problem without a solution.

Brands really don’t need to be afraid of bloggers, they just need to think like them (a little bit) so here are six tips for brand managers. Please feel free to add more in the comments if you think I’ve left something out.

1. Build Social Capital early and often: The best way to make sure you never have a big problem with bloggers is by participating in their discussions before the drama. If you follow folks like Scott Monty and Christopher Barger on Twitter you’ll see that their streams aren’t just about Ford and General Motors, they are simply on Twitter to be part of the online community. I’m quite certain that they are listening intently for their own brands, and for automobile news too, but both men have tweeted about their shoes within 24 hours of writing this. Now, you may think that they are wasting their time, but I can tell you that I personally have emailed each of them (called one of them on vacation) when disaster looked like it was looming.  Both men interact with a diverse community, and the Social Capital they’ve built (and continue to build) acts as a set of eyes and ears, even when they are on vacation.

2. Do not hand social media over to interns: Interns are adorable, and I recognize that businesses need them for things like answering phones and fetching coffee. However, when your intern is in charge of your facebook page you’ve just handed the keys over to someone who was probably delivering pizza last month. I know any idiot can “do” facebook, but it takes a non-idiot to figure out which gripes require your attention, and when your silence will be deafening. Social media is maturing, and there are pros available. Hire them before you have to shop for a crisis communicator (I hear those guys are expensive).

3. Monitor your brand round the clock: Small businesses do it, because they have to. You need to also. It doesn’t have to be one person, but at the barest minimum a google alert with YourBrandHere and boycott, sucks, or criminal as a keyword will keep you informed of a tempest brewing. If you’ve hired a pro they’ll be able to look at it and see if it’s worth paying any attention to (not all shrieking matters). Again, if you’ve built social capital you might have eyes and ears everywhere.

4. Respond truthfully: One big criticism of of the Motrin fiasco is that the apology wasn’t sincere (authentic). Seth Godin says “This isn’t a honest note from a real person. It’s the carefully crafted non-statement of a committee. What an opportunity to get personal and connected and build bridges…” To a degree he’s right, but my understanding is that J&J’s hands were tied because of legalese required by drug companies. I may be wrong, it may have just been a crappy reply. What works though is a well thought out reply that explains why you are an important part of a community. Just this weekend Rufus from Babble added a very long comment at phdinparenting that included these two paragraphs:

I encourage everyone who is concerned about this to spend some time on Babble reading about breastfeeding — just type in “breastfeeding” in our search box at the top of the page. You will see that we have worked hard to cover the breadth of breastfeeding issues in a way that is rational, non-judgmental, and supportive of women in their efforts to breastfeed for as long as possible. Katie Allison Granju wrote a wonderful post on Babble — Confessions of a proud Breastfeeding Zealot (tongue and cheek) — http://bit.ly/b8i2MZ — in which she concluded: the challenge is to create a supportive breastfeeding culture while being respectful of people’s individual choices. I think that’s well said; it’s what we aspire to do at Babble.

Here are some other interesting Babble takes: Madeline Holler on breastfeeding her daughter until she was almost 4 (http://bit.ly/dhOjQk); Tricia Grissom on why she had to switch to formula after a few months (don’t pounce on her until you read about her ordeal – http://bit.ly/9VApUq); and Kate Tuttle on the growing popularity of exclusive pumping (http://bit.ly/ayvXu9), and Madeline again on The Case Against the Case Against Breastfeeding (http://bit.ly/bmXO5R).

Clearly Rufus (and Babble) value the community at PhDinParenting, and clearly Babble supports moms and breastfeeding. It seems to me that his entire comment is the gold standard for how to respond when your brand is attacked.

5. Don’t participate if you don’t have the resources: Really. I honest to goodness recommend that brands stay out of social media if they aren’t going to make it part of their business. Do not set up a facebook page and then let it sit there. If you want to protect your name online buy your URL’s, take your twitter ID’s and just park them. Don’t invite a conversation you won’t show up for. People will take over your page. I think everyone remembers when Nestle set up a facebook fan page and then had no idea how to handle it. If you don’t know how to administer a fan page, if you don’t know a tweet from a grunt, do not jump into social media alone. There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need help, or deciding that you don’t have the resources to grow your brand online.

6. Just be yourself. Social media isn’t about your brand, it’s about you. If people like you they will help you. It’s just like high school, only everyone’s pretty now.

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