Just read on Chris Brogan’s site a serious critique of Amazon’s Cloud Service. Reminded me of an insight I had while researching web presence for a Fortune 500 company. Every company at that scale has a web presence and reputation/status. That extends pretty far down the pipeline, too. Most every company has some presence on the web (I’m sure there are a few that the web is completely ignorant of, but I expect that to be challenging to find).
Consider how many people use the web for research. Whether prospective new hires, students or activists, people will find all kinds of information about your institution on the web. Therefore, community management/social media management is critical for a company. At least one person should be scouring the web looking for opportunities to discuss the company, it’s products/services, and address issues. This must be fully transparent, however. Dialog needs to include both the positive and negative. Oh, and yes there are vile trolls out there. They exist whether you engage or not. Ignoring them let’s them control your company’s web image. Also, there are valid and useful critiques.
Activists of many issues have the ability to look at a company quite deeply. Transparency exists, whether you want it to or not. It’s not really that easy to track down in depth information, but it is possible. So, no matter what company you are and how tightly you try to control information, there is a great deal of “stuff” out there about you. Controlling the message has become impossible. The best thing you can do is engage forthrightly. And, of course, make sure your company is operating in an ethical and morally sustainable way.
Seriously, a negative critique is an opportunity to engage. If done well, it can build a fan. If not, it provides an opportunity to damage your reputation and relationship. Building and maintaining positive relationships requires active, and proactive engagement. There must be dialog (2 way discussion). Yes, really, the company must LISTEN. PR & Marketing need to be about managing relationships and less about “making the sale”. There needs to be a genuine desire for relationship. BS is easily detected and mass communicated.
Just be open, clear and ethical. Accept the “message” is out of your control, but that you can influence perception. If that influence is propaganda, it will be easily sniffed out and blown to pieces. Open, true two-way discussion works. The corporate mind just needs to stop being so afraid.