Viral marketing, user-generated content, online buzz: over the past few years, these terms have been representative of a new way of marketing to consumers that takes advantage of the current popularity of the social web. This new technique involves companies encouraging its customers to create content of their own in order to generate interest in the company's brand. Unfortunately, one of the potential side effects of this strategy is the potential for negative buzz. Despite this fact, a surprisingly low percentage of marketers are monitoring for negative responses.
Users Make UGC, But Few Marketers Monitor It
A Jupiter Research report on this subject analyzes the risks of negative buzz. The report is entitled "When Good Social Marketing Goes Bad," but it should be noted that most people use the term "social marketing" to apply to campaigns that mean to bring about social change. The Jupiter report, however, uses the term more casually to mean any marketing campaign that relies on user-generated content of a viral nature.
What they discovered was that although marketers have been quick to embrace this new trend - 35% allow for user-generated content (UGC) on their own web site and 21% have a profile on a social network - they have not been as quick to monitor and combat the negative buzz that some of their consumers will create.
In fact, only 29% of marketers using these techniques are monitoring the online discussions about their products on an ongoing basis and a shocking 17% don't monitor online discussions at all. Also, despite the availability of professional "buzz monitoring" services like Nielsen BuzzMetrics or MotiveQuest, only 8% of marketers used these services in 2007.
Who's Talking Trash?
The Jupiter report was also able to build a profile of the typical creator of negative user-generated content. This person is usually a heavy user of social networks, predominantly male (60% are male) and into technology (40% are influential in this area and 23% are considered "early adopters"). They are also a potential valuable audience for marketers as 49% tend to act as brand advocates - which means they tend to be vocal influencers who spread the word online.
How to Fight the Negative Buzz
Before trying to combat the negative buzz, the first thought needs to be whether or not it's worth the effort. Often, marketers will attempt to offer these negative UGC creators special treatment or invite them to be beta testers in order to keep the feedback private and productive. However, these tactics are not always practical and they don't always work, either.
A marketer must be aware of how far and fast their company will go to fix a legitimate complaint and also how likely the complainer is to adjust their response. Keeping in mind that research shows that only 12% of online adults think UGC like those posted on social networks or message boards is "trustworthy," going to great lengths to quiet the naysayers is not always worth the effort.
Of course, sometimes it is worth the effort, which is why the most important thing for a marketer to determine is whether or not the negative content is created by someone who just wants to take a cheap shot at the company, or whether it actually offers genuine insight into a product or service's failure. If so, then addressing those persons that created the negative UGC makes sense. Then, it can actually be helpful to engage those people openly in the public forum to show the company is listening to valid complaints and responding. That is a difficult choice to make for a company, as it only takes one loud negative voice to affect an influence on the larger group of the company's customers. However, when done well, this type of response can be a benefit to all.
Lately we've seen a lot of companies attempting to combat negative online buzz in new ways - Comcast has been monitoring blogs and social networks for mentions of their company, Digg is now holding online townhalls, and many other companies are offering customer service via Twitter. We've also seen the potential volatile situation that can occur when one disgruntled customer's voice can attract the attention of the whole crowd, as in the situation with Ariel Waldman's complaint against Twitter. Even she admits on her blog that she never meant "...to bring a mob with pitchforks to Twitter’s door," yet that is the power of even one complaint.
An old adage in advertising and marketing is that "a satisfied customer will, on average, tell five people, but a dissatisfied customer will tell everyone they know." For a company to be successful, especially now when the tools for communication are being intentionally placed in the customers' hands, it is more important than ever to know how to analyze, monitor, and respond to negative online buzz.