Brands try to inspire excitement among their communities so that their fans and supporters will do the selling for them. That’s called advocacy, and it’s much more powerful than self-promotion. There are of course many ways to cultivate that fan base and get your advocates motivated
On the flip side, however, are “badvocates” –- the folks who spread negative comments about you with their networks. For example, Kevin Smith’s experience with Southwest Airlines.
It’s important for any business learn how to handle this badvocacy. To do so, you must first understand its causes.
Causes of Badvocacy
In most cases, badvocacy is a result of negative experiences with your brand. These can come from:
- Inconsistency across channels and touchpoints. With social media, you can touch the customer at any point in the purchase cycle: Pre-purchase, during, and post-purchase. Each of those interactions has to add value and be consistent with the rest of the experience.
Let’s take support as an example. When you provide multi-channel support, you need to be careful about creating a consistent experience across all channels. Twitter support tends to lead other channels in its ability to provide individual solutions to customers. Other channels tend to lag behind. How many times have you called a support line only to have them route you to another 800 number because information you are looking for is in a different database? An inconsistent user experience can breed bad experiences.
- Inconsistency with expectations. Several times, I’ve gotten excited about a product based on the advertised promise, only to discover that that expectation was wrong. This type of disconnect certainly breeds negative feelings because time, effort and possibly money were wasted.
- A negative relationship with people who represent the company. Social media can humanize your brand, if used correctly. It’s important, however, that everyone adheres to the highest codes of conduct and is on the same page about company’s policies, news, product and feature releases, etc. A negative interaction with any person, whether in social or traditional channels, will mar the user’s view of the brand.
In a few cases, though, badvocacy isn’t actually about the experience, but rather about the personality of the complainer. Most people are reasonable, online or offline, and will not trash your brand without just cause. However, there are a few people who just like to pick fights and complain. Some look for attention, some are just chronic complainers, and some enjoy trolling the web under the cloak of anonymity. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn make it harder to troll under a fake identity, but forums and blog comments can more easily bring out this type of behavior.
When dealing with these users, there isn’t a lot that you can do. You need to realize that some battles aren’t worth fighting, and just move on to someone with a legitimate problem. As they say, “Don’t feed the trolls.”
If someone has a legitimate issue, do everything you can to work through it, offer an individualized solution, apologize and give them space to like you again. A reasonable person will work with you, and although they may never be your advocate or use your product again, they will recognize that you tried to help.
Now that you know the causes of badvocacy, it’s important to take action. First, however, you need to understand who your badvocates are, what they are saying and where they are saying it. The process is about listening, much like finding anything using social media.
Listen across relevant channels for the following words in conjunction with your brand name: “hate,” “sucks,” “bad,” “not working,” etc. You should also be tracking who is linking to your site and reading their blog posts and articles. When you find these distressed people, take the following steps:
- Figure out the issue. Read the content carefully, whether it’s a tweet or a long blog post, and understand the motivation behind the post. Is it a cry for help? Is it a distressed customer? What did they have a problem with? Why was their user experience subpar? How can you help them?
- Reach out. Reach out and acknowledge their pain. Most problems get resolved quickly because the person just wanted someone to talk to.
- Respect privacy. Know when to take the conversation private. Upon initial contact, it’s appropriate to acknowledge the problem in a public channel. After the initial public tweet, you should reach out in a private channel to really dig in and see if you can make a difference. Under no circumstances should you ever exchange confidential account information in an unsecured or public channel.
- Offer an individualized solution. In customer service, there’s no “one size fits all,” because each case is different. Offer an individualized solution, which may require you to work with the right people within your own company. Don’t tell this poor person to call the 800 number — go to bat for him.
- Don’t let it stew. Address sources of conflict quickly. Because most people just want to be heard, cared for and helped, the faster you can reach out, the more likely you will prevent the situation from festering.
- Never make it personal. If and when conflict escalates, never make it personal. Never attack the person, even if he or she attacks you personally. Keep the conversation focused on the issues.
- Take action, close the loop. Even though it’s self-explanatory, after you take action, you need to close the loop. Communicate back to the customer what has been done, or how soon to expect something to be done.
- Never lose your cool. Just like you shouldn’t make things personal, you should never lose your cool. Remember, even if you feel justified in “going berserk” in a certain situation, whatever you say in social media will stay part of your digital record forever. Choose your words wisely.
- Watch advocates come to your rescue. If you have done your job cultivating advocacy, in an online conflict, your advocates will come to your rescue.
- What’s influence got to do with it? Make sure you don’t just help badvocates with high influence scores. Every distressed customer is a potential badvocate, so make sure you help them before they become a “last resort” distressed customer.
How Do You Prevent Badvocacy?
You can prevent bad experiences by carefully cultivating advocacy among your audience through:
- Excellent experience. Just as badvocacy is caused by bad user experience, advocacy is caused by excellent experience. Recall that an excellent experience has to be consistent across all channels, regardless of location in the purchase cycle. The experience also must also be consistent with the promise and solve a big enough pain point to inspire advocacy.
- Create dialogue. Advocates are created when there is a two-way dialogue around their need, and users have a direct input into the future of the product. Just check out My Starbucks Idea for a great example.
- Humanize the brand. Kira Wampler, who handled the Intuit Small Business community, told me that engaging and displaying human avatars changed sentiment from 65% negative towards QuickBooks to only 35% negative. “My avatar was always a picture of one of my children and me during that time. I regularly told folks that it was easy to say ‘f**k you’ to Intuit the brand, but really hard to swear at the mommy and the baby. Especially when the mommy was helping,” says Kira.
You can’t empower your advocates without an empowered internal culture. Since anyone in the organization is a potential touchpoint for a customer (online or offline), each employee must be properly trained and motivated to provide an individualized solution for the client. When hiring, you must look for service orientation and the ability to solve problems. When training your new hires, make sure they have the resources to do the right thing for each and every customer.