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November 13th, 2007

Online Response Tactics 101

Cross-posted from Media Guerrilla.

“So, how do you know when to talk back?”

Yeah, I get this question a lot…

The upside of companies recognizing the importance of online conversations is that they’re, well, increasingly listening. And with listening comes the inevitable urge to act and respond to a whole bunch of things, but when do you do this? And how? Do you leave a comment? Do you send an email? It’s not like you have a field manual to reference for on-the-fly tact, so calculating what action to take (if any) is a challenge and unfortunately, a determination you have to make fairly quickly.

Here’s the thing: there’s no formula for how or when to talkback. You have to take each instance on a case-by-case, however, there are three baseline questions you should try to ask — and answer — before you do anything:

1. Is the post factually inaccurate?

If yes, congrats, you’re dealing with the top 10% of blogs. Kidding. Proceed to question two.

If no, okay then, a response may be necessary. I tend to weight the response tactics according to the severity of the inaccuracy. If it’s a simple mistake (e.g., a misspelling, a misquote, etc) then try contacting the author privately and directly. State your case and request the change, that’s all you can do. It’s no guarantee of a timely fix, but I think most folks will make an honest effort to correct their mistakes.

For those that don’t or who make more severe, err egregious errors, you have a reasonable case for leaving a public comment. Again, it’s no guarantee that the problem will be fixed or that the author will even allow your comment to be posted. In this instance, you may also want to consider contacting the author privately and directly too. And if you really want to escalate things, consider dragging the link out with your own blog post, bookmarks, tags and annotations – this is a response 202 tactic, proceed with caution.

2. Is the post a fair expression of opinion?

If yes, proceed to question three.

If not, you could consider talking back, but be careful, this is where most companies get tripped up because the only fair point-of-view is, well, the corporate one. I think this where you just have to be *really* honest about your company’s strengths and weaknesses. If, for example, a post is recounting a terrible experience with your product, there is very little you can do to change that person’s experience. Think about what purpose talking back with serve and what outcome you’re really looking for. Are you trying to appeal to the author or future readers who stumble on this post?

3. Is a relationship with the author important?

If yes, then you have to go one step further and ask yourself if talking back via comments or the back channel will augment and extend the relationship. Only you can answer that question.

If no, then you still have to go one step further and ask whether or not the blog post itself can impact and influence people’s perceptions. In most cases, if a relationship with the blog author isn’t a priority, neither is the blog’s readership, and therefor there’s no need to talkback. Case closed.

This is admittedly an incomplete post, there are nuances to all of this that I’m not digging into here, it’s response tactics 101, get off my back, but seriously, hopefully this provides some good starting points for reference for companies that want to talk back.

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About the Author
Mike Manuel is the GM of Voce Connect, the social media marketing and web development arm of Voce Communications. In between managing this team and overseeing Voce's digital programs, he'll post a thought or two on mike-manuel.com and via @mmanuel on Twitter.

Filed in Blogging, Public Relations, Social Media

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