Stay in the Conversation: How to Respond to Comments About Your Brand

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Despite marketers’ best efforts, most ad campaigns don’t start a conversation, let alone a movement. For every Nike – who just masterfully reinvigorated their 30-year-old Just Do It tagline with what started as a single image and message played across a variety of platforms – there are a thousand brands who feel like they’re shouting into a void.

While starting a conversation may not feel like the right opportunity for many brands, all of today’s marketing is really about starting and, even more so, participating in a conversation. All brands need to learn and practice being purposeful, human, and communicative, and there’s no better place than in the conversations started by your advertising.

81% of consumers say that social platforms have increased accountability for brands, and marketing has become more of a conversation than ever. Social platforms have leveled the playing field, enabling people to talk directly to (and about) the world’s largest companies, for all to see.

If your company is deciding if and how to engage, you’re not alone. But it’s no longer a question of if. Every brand needs to engage, and it’s time to figure out how. Here are 5 lessons we’ve learned to help you join the conversation on digital platforms.

Be Responsive

We recently spotted an ad for an ecommerce company on Facebook, on which a customer complained about the product. A week later, that same customer replied to their own comment saying, “I would like an answer please.” Despite being known for their customer service, especially on their organic social pages, this company failed to uphold the same standard with their paid ads. While this was just one comment, its presence diminished the impact of that brand’s advertising and also made it more challenging to convert new visitors who may have no other impression by which to judge the company.

And this person is not alone. Nearly half (46%) of consumers have used social media to call out brands, and the majority of those people expect a response. More than ever, these conversations play out in public for all to see. If your brand isn’t getting ahead of the individual issue, it likely won’t be an individual issue for long.

While you may have separate teams managing your customer support and social media presence (or even your paid and organic social efforts), your audience will not draw that distinction. A post is a post, and if you’re committed to responding, you need to be an empathetic participant in the conversation, wherever it’s happening.

Be Honest, Be Human

Brands, like people, have feelings. Even if your brand tends to communicate more seriously or formally, when you respond to comments, you have to speak like a person. Most platforms will give brands the authority, recognition, and verification necessary to tell your audience they’re speaking with a brand. It’s up to whoever is responding to the comments to let them know there’s a person working on behalf of that brand.

Responding to comments can give you the opportunity to empathize with the person, and if the commenter is raising substantive issues, address them. If not, ask for more information that would enable you to help. As the conversation is playing out, continually ask yourself: Is this the type of conversation I’d expect to hear on my favorite podcast – natural, informative, building towards a resolution? Or does what I’m about to say read like something a lawyer would say at an arbitration hearing?

Know How to Adapt Your Brand Voice

In order to answer questions, deal with problems, and interface with supporters in a timely manner, anyone responding to comments on your social pages should be trained in how to adapt your brand voice. Building in flexibility and variety to the voice, while still staying true to the brand, is crucial when responding to such a wide range of comments in such a public arena. Responders should know when the situation deserves levity (some comments – even negative – can be treated lightly) and when the consumer will see the situation as serious and a more formal tone is required.

It may come as no surprise that hotel brands are some of the most active commentators on social channels. In fact, 75% of hotel brands are actively commenting on Facebook. Think like a concierge when joining the conversation on digital platforms. You need to address an individual issue, but how you handle that issue may say more about your brand than any ad ever could. Whoever is commenting on your behalf will be part customer service representative and part brand marketer. Give them brand voice guidelines, but also empower them to invest – financially and/or emotionally – in solving the commenter’s issues.

Turn Haters Into Advocates

Good advertising is relevant advertising to the audience it’s targeting. Is your message – be it a product, a service, an idea, or even entertainment – providing value to your potential customers? Comments on or about your ads are a first indication as to whether your ad targeting and messaging have been effective. Many platforms will offer the ability to prevent your ads from displaying to certain audiences and you should consider fine-tuning your targeting to avoid hot button topics or issues.

Effective ads can even convert the uninitiated. They might be resistant at first, but if you can win them over with a compelling response, the conversation may have a greater impact than the initial ad itself. How you deal with trolls, haters, or those who were offended will likely live on far beyond your campaign.

“Good advertising is relevant advertising.”

Most brands will (and should) target their campaigns to audiences most likely to find the content relevant. And you should only be targeting your campaigns to contexts in which your content can add something to the conversation and provide relevance to users – either products or information.

Conversations Are More Than Comments

Although social platforms are built on commentary, a good strategy needs to go beyond simply responding to comments. Most digital platforms are built around some form of conversation beyond just commenting – messaging, user reviews, and more. All these mediums are an opportunity to empathize and engage with your audience.

More advertising and conversations are shifting to ephemeral, temporary, and even invisible formats across live stream feeds, stories, and dark social posts. So even if you can’t see it in the comments, there’s likely commentary happening. The lessons you learn in developing a successful conversation strategy will help you adapt to new conversational commerce platforms, such as chatbots, messaging apps, and augmented reality experiences.

In just about every facet of modern life – political, social, economic – it’s becoming clear that small voices can topple large institutions. This is no fad. Digital platforms have and will continue to amplify small voices, and brands need to respond. Learn how to do this well and authentically for your brand today and you’ll be well on your way to building a strong, empathetic conversation strategy for the future.