Timing is everything!

The internet and social media has made it infinitely easier for consumers to contact companies about their products and services. This is fantastic for the consumer as they have direct contact, and in most cases it’s beneficial for the companies to hear what their consumers have to say. However when the feedback is less than complimentary these comments can snowball and cause significant damage.

Listening to your customers and valuing their opinions is very important for companies, as without loyal customers (in turn buying products or services), there really is no point to a business. So when they have something to say about you, you need to listen and take note. With the popularity of blogs, social media and forums soaring, consumers can talk to each other about their experiences as well as talking to the companies. It is integral that companies monitor these online conversations so that when something negative is said they can prepare a response and have it instantly posted.

Public Relations is all about creating and sustaining a positive reputation, and today this is done partly through instant online communication. The important of communicating with your public today is no different to before the internet was so popular and user generated content was the norm. Back then if a company didn’t react quickly to a crisis or a negative comment made about them, then the public would start to loose trust in them. For example when Coca Cola had had their recall in Belgium during the summer of 1999, the main factor in escalating the crisis was CEO Douglas Ivester’s silence on the whole thing. Today there is no excuse for CEO’s not responding to a crisis, a statement can be made immediately and posted onto a company’s website. In some cases you can prevent a crisis simply by watching what the public is saying about you and officially responding where appropriate. People want to know what is going on and they hate being left in the dark, so to avoid idle gossip it is hugely important to keep them informed and it is now than ever.

There are various tools out there that you can use to monitor your online mentions. There are online web searches like Ice Rocket or Addict-o-matic. There are social media specific monitoring tools like Brand Watch and Radian6 (more can be found here) You can even track mentions of your company on YouTube videos and other sites that host video via Google Videos. A lot of these services are completely free allowing any company to monitor what is being said about them, whether it be your local cafe or major international businesses like Starbucks. Even if your business doesn’t have an official social media presence it doesn’t stop people using Facebook or Twitter to talk about you, where user generated content is concerned anybody is fair game which makes it all the more important for companies to invest time into tracking what is being said about them.

It really is integral for any serious business to have measures in place so that they can act fast and respond quickly to user generated content like blog posts or Facebook comments, especially when they are negative to your company. You can’t afford to ignore the influence and importance of these online conversations, in these situations timing is everything the faster you can respond, the better the outcome will be.

What does Social Media say about you?

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (yes people still use it!), LinkedIn, Bebo, Flickr, Foursquare, Google+ and list goes on! Worldwide there are literally hundreds of social networking sites and if you have one, you probably have at least 2 or 3. But is the information you have on these sites damaging you or your company’s reputation?

It’s becoming a well known fact that employers will Google candidates and check out their social media presence even before you get to interview stages. So now that these sites have moved on from just a place to connect with friends, to somewhere where employers and customers will get their first impressions of you it is vital that what these sites say about you is positive and not detrimental.

I have come up with 5 top tips to keep your Social Media presence a positive attribute rather than a negative one:

1. Picture Perfect

Everybody has embarrassing drunk photos on their Facebook profile and it is good to show that you can let your hair down at the weekends, but if these odd one or two photos are more like every other photo, then you may need to think about cutting them down a bit. It’s one thing to show that you can have a good time, but you need to remember that employers more importantly want to know that you’re not going to turn up with a hangover every morning!

2. Up to date

With new Social Networking sites popping up all the time it’s easy to forget that old MySpace account or YouTube channel you set up when you were 15. It’s good to do a Google search for yourself every once and a while to re-discover these lost profiles and either up date them or delete them. Make sure that all of your current accounts are also up to date, especially education and employment history.

3. Honesty is the best policy

Now you know that employers will be looking at your Social Media presence don’t fall in the trap of embellishing the truth. Honesty really is the best policy, employers will pick up on what you have written about yourself and may question you at an interview, much like your CV so it really is important to be truthful on all of you profiles.

4. Sticks and stones

Every man and his dog has a blog these days and sometimes the things we write about can be emotionally fueled and negative to say the least. If you know you have written something about a company in the past that you may regret now and you think reflects badly on yourself then address it in a new positive one. Explain why you wrote it and how your view point has changed, because one day you may find yourself wanting to work at that company. Similarly future employees don’t want to see that you have slated a former employee on your blog or Facebook page, why would they employ somebody that could turn around and do the same to them? Keep those sorts of opinions private, because they could affect your future professional prospects.

5. Common Sense

Before you publish that post or update your status, think what it says about you to all of your potential audience. In essence use your common sense, if it’s just a rant to make you feel better after you’ve been reprimanded at work it’s probably going to reflect badly on you when you come to want a new job so don’t publish it. If it’s a subjective piece on a company that you strongly believe has done wrong and you are sure you won’t regret it in the future then go for it.

Although these tips are for personal Social Media usage, organisations also need to take heed, instead of going to official websites consumers are increasingly using Facebook as their first port of call. This means that a company’s Facebook page could become their front of house, so the information and comments on it need to portray a positive image.

These tips aren’t meant to stifle how you represent yourself online, they’re meant to make you think twice about what information you have about yourself online. Public Relations is about creating and sustaining a positive reputation, this is no different for how you portray yourself using Social Media. Often people fall into the trap of using sites like Facebook and Twitter as a platform to air grievances and in the heat of the moment you may find it helpful, but down the line you may find that they turn around and bite you on the bum!

Make sure that your Social Media profiles are saying the right things about you.