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Reply to online critics in public, discuss in private

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment
Instagram user Luxuryprgal said it best: Everyone with a computer is a damn food critic. Love this restaurant's sense of humor about it...

Instagram user Luxuryprgal said it best: Everyone with a computer is a damn food critic. Love this restaurant’s sense of humor about online criticism…

When I was at a restaurant recently, one of the owners was having a minor freak out because someone criticized them on Facebook.

It was one comment, and from what I could tell, it seemed snarky but fair. Instead of using it as a chance to say yes, you’re right, we could probably do better on that, he perceived it as an attack, got defensive, snarked back then deleted the criticism.

He missed a golden opportunity.

Here’s a terrifying truth for many businesses: people are talking about you, and not all of it is positive.

This has always been the case, but social media makes these amateur critiques much more public. Instead of just complaining about your terrible service to friends over beers, anyone inclined to shout it from the electronic rooftops can take to Yelp or Twitter or any number of other places.

Think about the Fortune 500, the American companies generating the most revenue, and whether it’s Wal-Mart, General Motors or J.P. Morgan Chase, they generate plenty of public criticism. But that doesn’t mean they shy away from being part of the conversation, as shown in this list of Fortune 500 social media stars.

One of the marketing services I offer is conducting customer surveys. Businesses sometimes pay thousands of dollars and take weeks or months to find out what customers are thinking. It’s valuable information. Social media offers you a peek into that feedback for free, if you’re willing to take it. It’s not a representative sample but as one way to take the temperature of your customers, it’s really useful.

Snark can be one of the speed bumps. Copious articles have detailed the rise of snark online, pining the blame on everything from anonymous comments to the sarcasm of the ironic hipster. Maybe you don’t just get someone saying your sandwich was disappointing, but instead “Worst. Sandwich. EVER. #lunchfail.” I get that it’s hard not to get defensive in the face of the melodrama.

So I offer these five tips to put online critics — even the snarky ones — to work for you:

1. Tune in to what’s being said — regularly check your Facebook page and your Yelp profile, for example, and use searches on Twitter and Instagram to look for comments about your business.

2. Take a deep breath — just as you might prefer your spouse tell you discreetly that your fly is open rather than shouting it across the room, it can sting to hear criticism publicly, even if it’s valid and helpful. Before you respond in anger, cool down. If you really care about your business, it might hurt to hear that you’ve missed the mark. Take time to be hurt before taking your next step.

3. Respond to complaints publicly, discuss privately – show your concern in your community but don’t feel you have to engage in a visible debate. Answer but don’t be defensive. Acknowledging concerns gives you the chance to explain. Maybe you had an off day and you know it. If you show your humanity, reasonable customers will probably understand. Then take the individual complaint off line — address it in email or by phone, for example — to offer a solution like a refund or an invitation to come back.

4. Answer promptly – if one person has a question or concern, answering publicly might save you numerous emails and calls about the same thing.

5. Communicate results — do you get a lot of complaints about specific issues? Fix what’s broken, then tell social media fans how you’ve listened to them and appreciate their help

I have found that simply responding calmly can defuse many hostile situations. The critic realizes it’s a real human being on the other end of the conversation and upon being heard might engage in a rational conversation.

You’re also communicating with more than that individual. You’re showing the rest of your customers that you’re conscientious, you’re listening and you care whether your customers are satisfied. Just as I watch how my favorite businesses handle an angry customer in person, how you reply to online criticism from someone else might give me great confidence that if I ever have a problem, you’ll stand behind your product.

That can take a #socialmediaFAIL and turn it into #winning.

Bonus tip #6 — hopefully not all social media feedback will be negative, so be sure to say thank you. When someone pays you a compliment, let them know you’ve heard it and you appreciate it.

I wouldn't recommend every business respond to a Yelp critic like Charles Hanson did -- but if you're a dive bar with attitude, this might be the right way to go.

I wouldn’t recommend every business respond to a Yelp critic like Charles Hanson did — but if you’re a dive bar with attitude, this might be the right way to go.

Marketing Monday: What do Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday mean to you?

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Black FridaySmall Business SaturdayCyber Monday, Giving Tuesday … remember when it used to be just plain ol’ Thanksgiving?

It seems there’s been more buzz this year around Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, making this a long weekend devoted to conversations of shopping and discounts.

Should your business participate? Obviously too late to join in for this year, but maybe you’re Monday morning quarterbacking or thinking about next year.

Recently I wrote a post about starting with your business goals, then taking actions consistent with those goals and building a communications plan around those actions.

Deciding whether to take part in any of these themed days — or anything like it, maybe a chamber of commerce promotion or a street festival — goes back to those three steps.

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Marketing Monday: Goals > Action > Communication

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Not long ago I had a hands-on social media training session with some of my favorite clients. We covered how to send an @reply and a direct message on Twitter, how to link to other businesses and people in a Facebook status update and how to use HootSuite and Facebook to schedule posts in advance. We even got them started on Instagram, which they linked up to their Facebook and Twitter accounts to share photos.

It was the easiest part of a project I did with them to craft a social media strategy.

Each social media platform has its own lingo to learn, and it can be a little intimidating when you’re new.

But I think any effective social media strategy doesn’t start with tips and tricks, it starts with goals. Goals should be the foundation, then the actions you’re taking toward those goals, and finally how you’re going to communicate those goals.

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Five tips for getting started using Twitter for marketing

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Last summer, I wrote a series of guest blog posts for Stirring Up Success, a B2B blog run by Dawn Foods, a manufacturer of bakery ingredients and products and distributor to the bakery industry. According to a case study by Crossroads, StirringUpSuccess.com has been featured in top industry trade publications as a unique and helpful tool for bakery owners.

Here’s my third post in the series, offering bakeries some pointers for getting started using Twitter as a marketing tool. Even if you don’t run a bakery, I hope the basics apply, but I apologize if you find yourself suddenly craving a cupcake.

Using Twitter for the first time can feel like hearing people speak  a foreign language – or for those old enough to remember, it’s like turning on a CB radio, where voices you don’t recognize are using slang you don’t understand in conversations you aren’t sure how to join.

Getting started on Facebook probably feels a little easier, because its format is closer to websites or blogs. But with a little watching and listening, you can use 140-character tweets for business communication.

Here are five tips for using Twitter for business:

  1. Set up your account – Go to Twitter and fill in your name, email and password. On the next screen you choose your user name, sometimes called your Twitter handle. If you’re new to Twitter, I recommend using your personal name so you can experiment without attaching your business name to your trial and error. Because Twitter users communicate with each other by using handles, choose something short and easy to spell. JessSmith is better than Jessica_Lynn_Smith-Kluczyk, for example.
  2. Add a photo and a description.  Your Twitter photo, also called an avatar, helps identify you with your tweets. Your photo and profile description both help create a credible presence, and demonstrate you’re real, as opposed to the spambots you will encounter.
  3. Set up saved searches.  Start with the name of your business, then any related ways people might talk about your business or product, to scan Twitter for what people are already saying about you. Enter a term at the top of the page, then click the gear on the right of the results screen to get the option to save. Your saved searches will appear when you click your cursor in Twitter website’s search box.
  4. Follow people.  The quickest way to learn is to watch others. Try following some of Twitter’s most popular accountssome of Time magazine’s best Twitter feeds, and use Twitter’s profile search or a directory like Twellow.com to find people with your interests.
  5. Talk to people.  Twitter can initially feel like you’re talking to yourself. The easiest way to make sure someone is listening is to tweet at another user. When you see an interesting tweet in your saved search or news feed, click “reply” and Twitter will insert an @ symbol ahead of that user’s handle, letting him know you’re answering.  RT means retweet, sharing someone else’s tweet with your followers, and MT means modified retweet, generally because you had to shorten it to make 140 characters. Be sure to read your own @ replies so you know when someone’s talking to you.

If you’re stuck figuring out what to say, start by figuring out your strategy for social media and let that guide the kinds of tweets you post. We’ll talk more about strategy and content in a future post.

Colleen Newvine Tebeau is a former reporter and editor who then earned her MBA at University of Michigan with emphases in marketing and corporate strategy.  She is a marketing consultant who helps small and midsized organizations with strategy and tactics, including social media and communications.

Five tips for getting started using Facebook for marketing

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

By this point, Facebook has become so culturally ubiquitous that probably even the remaining holdouts who don’t have an account have at least seen it and are aware of the concept of the interconnected social network.

But even those who are active personally might not know how to use Facebook for marketing.

Sadly, it’s getting harder, as Facebook’s algorithm for what users see in their news feed limits the number of users seeing page content – the rough number thrown around is that only about 10 percent of those who’ve liked the page see that page’s posts in their news feeds. So even if you’ve already liked my business page, or Coke’s or Justin Bieber’s, there’s a good chance you’re missing what we’re sharing with you.

Still, it’s a huge, free channel to not just share your message but engage your fans in conversation, so it’s worth getting to know.

So here’s a guest post I wrote last summer for a business-to-business blog for bakeries, on how to get started using Facebook for business.  Stirring Up Success is run by Dawn Foods, a manufacturer of bakery ingredients and products and distributor to the bakery industry. According to a case study by Crossroads, StirringUpSuccess.com has been featured in top industry trade publications as a unique and helpful tool for bakery owners.

My first post in the series encouraged bakeries to take the time to define their business goals to help them be more effective on social media. Then we built on that with some how-tos for Facebook beginners:

Social Media Strategy – Facebook

Facebook has more than 1 billion active users so odds are good you already have an account with the popular social media site. But are you using it to find high school friends or to help grow your business?

Starting with a strategy for your social media will help guide you, as I blogged about last month. For example, do you want to use Facebook to talk to existing customers or try to reach new ones, and are you trying to make more sales or help improve customer support?

Once you have defined your social media goals, here are five tips for using Facebook for business:

Set up a page – not a profile, not a group. When you create your page, you can choose from designations including local business or brand. Facebook prohibits businesses from using personal profiles, so if you previously set up a profile instead of a page, here’s how to convert it.

Fill in the “about” section. So many businesses don’t take advantage of this obvious place to answer visitors’ basic questions about who you are and what you do.

Manage your page’s settings. Click on Edit Page, then Update Info and you can customize the name of your page to something like https://www.facebook.com/NewvineGrowing . You can also set up email notifications when users comment, and get the ability to either post under your business name or as a person.

Post a mix of content. Photos pop visually in your fans’ news feed, links can direct your Facebook fans to content on your website or blog, questions let your customers know you care what’s on their minds. Variety lets you see what your visitors respond to, and keeps you from sounding monotonous.


Experiment with posting at different times and on different days. According to social media scientist Dan Zarrella, Saturday is the best day to post to Facebook and the best time is noon if you want maximum engagement. That’s on average, though, so it’s important to see if that’s true for your customers.

How will you know if you’re on the right track? Facebook Insights gives you data on how many people your page has reached each day and what kinds of results each of your individual posts got. If you aren’t sure what any of the numbers mean, hover your cursor over the question mark or data point and you’ll get more information.

Five questions to begin your strategy for effective use of social media

in Uncategorized by Colleen Newvine Leave a comment

Last summer, I wrote a series of guest blog posts for Stirring Up Success, a B2B blog run by Dawn Foods, a manufacturer of bakery ingredients and products and distributor to the bakery industry. According to a case study by Crossroads, StirringUpSuccess.com has been featured in top industry trade publications as a unique and helpful tool for bakery owners.

Here’s my first post in the series, encouraging bakeries to take the time to define their business goals to help them be more effective on social media.

We have a shelf full of cookbooks, which help us figure out a plan when we cook.

Using social media without a strategy is a bit like turning on the oven without knowing whether you’re reheating last night’s leftovers or baking an elaborate wedding cake.

Just as understanding how to use a measuring cup and mixer are essential to baking, comfort with social media tools can make it easier to implement a plan. But there’s a difference between randomly throwing some ingredients together and following a formula – you need a strategy.

Five questions to help you get strategic about social media:

  1. What are your company’s goals? Do you want more sales, bigger sales, new customers, more orders from existing customers, different kinds of customers? Be as specific as possible, so you can measure your progress.
  2. What’s your status quo?  Inventory your existing communications, including newsletters, social media and brochures. Even in a small organization, this is worthwhile so everyone is conscious of what you have and so you don’t reinvent the wheel.
  3. Who is your audience?  Describe who you want to reach, what they want and how they like to communicate. Are you trying to stay in touch with existing customers so they will tell their friends about you or find potential new customers? The way you talk to moms planning birthday parties in the Midwest is very different from corporate event planners in Los Angeles.
  4. What is your competition doing with social media? You don’t need to copy what they’re doing, but you should be aware. It’s also a cheap way to keep an eye on them.
  5. What resources do you have? Be realistic. If you have a small staff with no communications budget, you need to be selective about what you take on. Consider your talents and interests as well. For example,would you rather write or take pictures?

Answering these questions doesn’t mean you have a social media strategy, but it should get the conversation started.

One final thought: don’t limit yourself by only thinking about pushing out information. Social media is a two-way conversation. It can be an excellent way to ask questions, listen to what people are saying about you and your competition and to respond to customer concerns.

Colleen Newvine Tebeau is a former reporter and editor who then earned her MBA at University of Michigan with emphases in marketing and corporate strategy.  She is a marketing consultant who helps small and midsized organizations with strategy and tactics, including social media and communications.

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