Since leaving Molson Coors at the end of December, I have had a lot of opportunity to take a look across a broader set of brands and community organizations reflecting on their social media activity. I am respectful that corporations have rules and filters and escalation protocols for what content gets posted etc. I am also respectful of the fact that issues can arise from careless tweets or customer complaints that have become much more public, given the power of social media. However, a fundamental and critical action that brands must (and that’s a strong word folks) consider is their sensitive responsiveness to the customer in social networks.

What does sensitive responsiveness look like ? Let’s start with what “social media” establishes. Social media establishes an opportunity for a brand or an individual or a not for profit or whatever entity to engage in dialogue about their product or issues and interests. It represents and opportunity to engage, debate, support, or opine; much like folks would have done in conversations in the past around the dinner table or at a community social event. The difference is that these conversations are now public and open for “one to one to many” conversations and shared multiple dialogues. Would you set up a call centre with multiple phone lines and just respond with a taped generic message, or let the phones ring and not answer them ?

In my opinion brands need to consider a few questions as they approach social media:

ONE – What is the purpose for you or your brand to be on social networks ? Really focus on this purpose. What is intended ? What is it suppose to drive…engagement, sales, sales leads, conversations, just being present ? Are you there because your competitor is there ? How is your competitor fairing ? What do you think their purpose if for being in that social network ? How have you assessed their success and what they are gaining ? Is your intent similar, different or not purposeful ? Don’t make the mistake of just having a “profile” because you think you need to be there.

TWO – What is your brand and when is it most critical for you to be “on” in social media. When are people most likely to be in social conversations about your brand? In the beer business it likely means when the bars and retail are open and likely evenings and weekends when social occasions are happening. If it’s the tuxedo business there will be peaks and valleys in the year where proms, weddings and formals are most prominent. If you are cereal, is it a morning blog update that flashes up during the breakfast hour when someone is likely having a bowl and checking the web. If you are a sports property it might be most relevant when your team is on the ice or the field or the court or the course. Or, perhaps you are big and ubiquitous enough to think that you need to be “on” 24/7 (Ha…don’t we wish we were all that successful in what we are selling to have that need!)

THREE- Respect that “they” have an opinion out there. Respect that they have a voice. Respect that they might be ill informed, under informed or perhaps have more knowledge and be an expert in a subject matter. Repect, as difficult as it may be, that you might only get as far as agreeing to disagree. When this respect is established, you will be in the right context and state of mind. The mistake is made by those brands or individuals that become defensive or dismissive, remove posts, lash out or just “message” back. Respect in the conversation will raise conversation to a new level, and hopefully some meaningful dialogue. Oh yes…there needs to be mutual respect for this to work…smiles.

FOUR – Be SENSITIVE ! I’m sorry for the exclamation mark but what I’ve felt the past couple of months is a real lack of brands who get this. Lots of brands are in a social network but they are not “on”. Either they are too shy to respond, (I respect that there are comfort stages of embracing and using social…listen – listen – listen – plan – be sensitive – prepare your response – engage in responding – respond to them…not from you…but to them in a sensitive way – then when you get comfortable start to lead conversations but based on their needs in how they interact with you or your brand) or they haven’t figured out that the real power in social media is the conversation. If someone is tweeting you or commenting on Facebook or commenting on a blog or media post…be there. Get into the conversation. At the very least if someone is shouting at you with a complaint, please acknowledge them for their interest in your brand. They bought your product, they chose you. Please show them that you at least care enough to acknowledge them. Maybe you need to buy time to respond. Tell them that. Being sensitive is a way of listening. It’s more than just punching back a response.It’s much better than ignoring the issue because you don’t want to deal with it publicly. It’s actually listening to your consumer and understanding what they love about you or what their complaint is. You have a chance to be sensitive to their emotion and their thinking and then respond.

I do have a few favourites that I see being very responsive. I won’t get into the “list” now. Perhaps I will create a top ten and bottom ten from my own personal experience. Why ? Because social media provides the opportunity for just that. A brand can get personal with the consumer. The brand can build loyalty in a one to one way. That one to one will spread, because people talk about their experiences with brands, good – bad or ugly. People have lots of choices. The brands or the individuals or the not for profits or the community projects that choose to be sensitive and to engage will, in my opinion, be the brands and individuals that will build loyalty and long term support for themselves. Your thoughts  always welcome. Are you “on” ?  @FergDevins