President and Chief Strategy Officer
NetPlus Marketing Inc.
A 25-year marketing veteran, Denise Zimmerman has spent the past 18 years focusing on the digital landscape and best-practice applications in marketing, advertising and communications. She spoke with eMarketer Senior Analyst Jeffrey Grau about the options retailers have in responding to negative buzz on social media sites.
eMarketer: When I mention negative buzz, what comes to mind?
Denise Zimmerman: A number of things. I recall retailers really being frightened about Amazon offering reviews. It was probably one of the first and certainly one of the best at it. That became a major asset in their business. People looked to those reviews in their determination for a purchase. Amazon proved that it was a positive business driver.
So, reviews became the first step in an area that is probably fair to call social media. I had a number of conversations even back then with retailers who were really afraid to do that. What if somebody says something bad? Not everybody is going to be happy all the time.
eMarketer: What was the lesson learned?
“Reviews were positive for the business. If you had a good product and you were a good company, the positive reviews far outweighed the negative ones. You also got valuable feedback.”
Ms. Zimmerman: That reviews were positive for the business. If you had a good product and you were a good company, the positive reviews far outweighed the negative ones. You also got valuable feedback about potential issues or problems with a product that you might not have gotten before. But the challenge for retailers was, what do you then do about it? And a lot of this is relevant to the larger social media picture.
A lot of companies and retailers weren’t necessarily set up then to address these issues in terms of responding, and if something came to light that they needed to address from a product perspective, the organization dynamics were really not in place. And they’re still challenged in this way today with social media. Some have made more progress than others, but the implementation remains a challenge.
eMarketer: So how do the new social media differ from customer reviews?
Ms. Zimmerman: Most retailers have bitten the bullet on the review issue. But then you’ve got Twitter and Facebook. They have grown exponentially in scope and in speed. The additional element is that there is an expectation from the customer that you’re going to respond. Reviews were still a little bit more controlled. There was some level of expectation, but I don’t think to the extent that there is today.
“If we put this into context, people talking about you is not new. ... You just didn’t know it. The feedback of how well you were doing was reflected in sales, success of the business and the number of customer-service calls. But now you do know it, and maybe you really didn’t want to.”
If we put this into context, people talking about you is not new. For the most part, you just didn’t know it. The feedback of how well you were doing was reflected in sales, success of the business and the number of customer-service calls. But now you do know it, and maybe you really didn’t want to.
eMarketer: How should retailers deal with negative buzz on social media sites?
Ms. Zimmerman: You’ve got three top-level options. The first is to ignore it. This is interesting because if I got up in front of a crowd of people, retailers or nonretailers, who wanted to know about social media and I told them that a viable option was to ignore it, they would probably look at me and say, “That’s so antisocial.” But it is a very clear option, and there are times when that’s appropriate.
The other obvious option is to respond, but then the questions are, how to respond and in what way? There are other things to consider in making that decision. Then, the third option, which also seems incredibly antisocial, is to take the negative comments down.
eMarketer: When should a retailer ignore negative buzz?
Ms. Zimmerman: You need to make the determination based on a couple of variables. One, is it really a company issue? Or was it an isolated situation particular to that individual and not something that is omnipresent or persistent? There are a couple of ways to know that. One is, you’ve got to know your own business and your own company, and you should look into what the issue is and find out what the facts are. Two, you also may want to look at the individual who has posted that and what their influence is, meaning how many Twitter followers or how many Facebook fans they might have.
eMarketer: Aren’t there also some people who just like to complain or may even be abusive in their remarks?
Ms. Zimmerman: Exactly. You have to bucket it. And by the way, you have to plan for all this. This is not a reactive thing.
Some people do things like that because they’re just trying to get a reaction. Part of the challenge is that not everybody has the experience to make good calls on this. It’s a real challenge and it’s new to companies, which is why it needs to be, at some level, a team effort and why you need to plan and understand what the options are and how to evaluate these situations. What you really need to have is an evaluation escalation plan.
“You need to ask, who is this person? How influential is the person? Is he addressing and illuminating a real issue? Is this all about him, or is it really about my business or product or whatever? ... You’re not going to be right all the time, and you’ve just got to accept that.”
You need to ask, who is this person? How influential is the person? Is he addressing and illuminating a real issue or not? Is this all about him or is it really about my business or product or whatever? And then you make the determination. And by the way, you’re not going to be right all the time, and you’ve just got to accept that.
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