5 specific instances of social communication and how brands can deal with them

One of the most basic facets of social media is that it is a many-to-many communication mode and such conversations impact and affect many more people than the 2 people who may actually be in the conversation, simply because such a conversation is being conducted in public, online.

Naturally, social media is a phenomenal opportunity for brands to not just impact the perception of one person on the other side of the conversation but do it with many other who may be merely watching the conversation progress. It is here that brands need to create smart and intelligent content that goes beyond addressing one person and offering clues to impact perceptions of a lot of people.

Here are 5 typical scenarios of social media-led many-to-many communication and practical ways in which brands can deal with them.

1. Tweet with a comment – someone takes your (brand’s opinion) and adds a comment

A typical example
Your brand’s official channel on Twitter or Facebook posts an update. Someone takes that update/tweet, add their take on the topic and post it on their own Twitter/Facebook page.

Get your facts right
It is not addressed at or to the brand – it is addressed to that person’s audiences/followers. The brand is not obligated to respond – it is merely part of the overall discussion.

What can the brand do?
The advantage for the brand here is that it is not normally expected to enter such a conversation, but if it does, sensibly and smartly, it stands to gain in terms of better perception – one, that it is keen to listen and understand its audiences, and two, that it has smart people behind it.

This is vastly different from the relatively simple act of someone asking a query directly to the Twitter handle of a brand. Most brands have understood that this is the new age version of an email or a phone call, but what they haven’t perhaps fully grasped is that the phone call and email were between 2 parties – a tweet query (or one on Facebook) is technically between 2 parties, but is open to the rest of the world to jump in too! Brands need to be intelligent enough to plan for that scenario and not treat it merely as a one-to-one communication since it so obviously is not!

2. Public complaints

A typical example
Someone complains about your brand/product on their blog, Twitter or Facebook profile.

Get your facts right
People may choose to complain to a brand, directly, using one-to-one communication modes like email or phone, but they may also be using public channels to complain for 2 specific reasons – one, to seek help from others who may have faced a similar problem or two, distrust in the brand that things will be resolved in direct channels.

So, they could vent it out via a Facebook status update, a tweet or a blog post. In all these cases, the complaint is not addressed to the brand, but the person’s readers, in the hope that someone else who went through a similar problem may offer help or such a public naming and shaming may force the brand to sweeten the deal, or at best resolve any pending issue.

What can the brand do?
The advantage for brands here is that it would be seen as being genuinely interested in its customers, no matter where they choose to complaint. Instances of conversations and responses such as these would help build more loyal customers who may perhaps choose direct methods of communications instead of going public in the future.

3. Seeking information on Facebook, Twitter or other brand-owned social media channels

A typical example
Someone chooses to ask a query or complain on a brand’s owned social channel, on Facebook or Twitter, for instance.

Get your facts right
Brand-owned social media channels are not one-to-many broadcast channels; they are many-to-many communication channels that merely give an illusion of control to brands. If brands continue to simply share brand-centric updates, the so-called fans may lose interest and tune out. The key in managing such channels is to interest fans to join conversations and engage with the brand in a meaningful way.

What can brands do?
As with anything social, the conversation is visible to all other fans of the brand and also to the rest of the world and that’s where the change in perception happens. Earlier, when brands had limited modes of communication, mostly using direct, one-to-one channels, the conversation and its value remained between 2 parties. When it happens in public, not only does it help others interested in the topic of that conversation, but the way the brand deals with that also impacts perception about the brand.

4. Social media commentary

A typical example
Someone posts an opinion about a brand or a product, via their own blog or on their Facebook/Twitter profiles.

Get your facts right
Before social media, people had limited avenues to express their opinions on any subject. Most of these involved one-to-one or one-to-many communication modes if you consider opinion being shared with a group of people, in some form of gathering. Unless the person in question is an authority, with his own channel in an established media vehicle, such opinions had no way to reaching widespread audience.

Social media doesn’t change the status quo that dramatically, but there are 2 basic changes – permanence of information and the possibility of such opinions getting widespread visibility. Consider a blog post about a new movie or a new product. At one level, this information is usually permanent, on the web and can be served via search queries at any time. On the other hand, consider the possibility of such opinions spreading online – all it needs is perhaps an initial push from one or more influencers online; depending on the strength and topicality of the content, it has a fair chance to spread online.

What can brands do?
For brands, this is nothing but publicly shared and available commentary with no specific call-to-action. A smart brand could assume a call-to-action and join the author in a conversation, depending on the context. Depending on how well such a conversation is handled, the brand stands a chance in creating a positive perception with the concerned blog’s owner and readers.

5. Communities around a brand/product

A typical example
A group of people form an online community (may be a Facebook group, a Google/Yahoo group or a standalone online forum) around a particular product.

Get your facts right
Not to be confused with communities that fans create around a product category (usually involving discussions about multiple brands), fans could also create communities around a specific brand’s product. In most cases, this is not done in order to get the brand’s attention, but depending on how the brand reacts, the community could become an amplification channel for the product.

What can brands do?
Like Coca Cola, if the brand embraces such a community, it helps both the brand and its fans in the community. An embrace need not mean offering freebies to the community’s members – it could be something as simple as an acknowledgement to ongoing sharing of relevant information.

Image courtesy, The Architecture of Knowledge.

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