It’s okay to remove your brand from the conversation

October 16, 2013

Since the rise of social media, brands are consistently told it is imperative to have an “open dialogue” and “join the conversation”. But what happens when that conversation gets out of control and poses more danger to than good?

Recently, Popular Science announced it would be removing the comments section from their website. In a characteristically evidence-driven post, they describe how a “fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.” They point to “trolls and spambots” who hijack the debate and inhibit the ability of the publication to fulfill its brand promise: “spreading the word of science far and wide.”

I have also been witness to a Facebook promotion gone awry by similar tactics. When tourism promoter TravelTex used Facebook feed ads to promote visiting the State of Texas, commenters had a field day. The ads are built to look like a friend is posting in your news feed, with comments open as usual. Snarky users jumped on the opportunity to generate a few laughs for themselves by posing offensive questions such as “Should we visit before or after you secede?” and “Can we attend the execution of a mentally disabled inmate while we're there?" I haven’t seen the promotion again.

When is it okay to not engage in the conversation?

Brands strive to make personal connections with customers. Even B2B brands want to create a friendly and open feeling – for ultimately it is still a human being who makes the purchase decision. Social media at first glance seems to be a great vehicle to connect one-on-one. We’ve all seen the success stories and screenshots of brands responding real time – whether it's the banter between Taco Bell and Old Spice or the infamous Oreo superbowl tweet. Plus, many companies also see social media as a low-cost investment – it only takes a few people to manage the social media outlets, right? Not necessarily.

Ongoing management of your message is a critical component to maintaining brand fidelity. Clear, consistent communications are the cornerstone of any strong brand. Companies can underestimate the effort it will take to manage this process. Whether you have just a few people responsible for outbound messaging or a large global communications team, thorough training is critical to get every employee on board and in alignment with the brand. Communications don’t just happen through media channels, but also through operations and customer service.

When you open up the dialogue to external voices, things can quickly become unwieldy and unmanageable. You have to have a specialized team at the ready to respond – and to be prepared for any and every kind of reaction out there. When you exposure yourself to that larger conversation with everyone, you set expectations in the minds of your audiences. How you respond – and even whether you respond – will reflect back on your brand.

And, to that point, you can end up saying a lot by being silent and not responding. CoreBrand recently decided to shutdown our Facebook page because we weren’t using the tool properly – we maintain our Twitter and LinkedIn presence, but we weren’t using Facebook actively. It had become a simple mirroring of our Twitter feed. We realized this was not reinforcing our brand as being responsive to clients and prospects, so we opted to close it down. It wasn’t a decision we took lightly – we met, discussed our options for improving our use of the site and potential ramifications of closing that line of communication. We discussed how our brand would be affected by each of the options. Ultimately we decided that our target audiences were more prevalent on other social media sites and it was wise for us to focus our efforts.

I think that’s what it really comes down to: taking a look our brand promise and asking the question of what are the appropriate avenues to support and advance it. Which is what Popular Science did as well. Sometimes the best answer for your brand is to exit the conversation.

Do you have any favorite examples of brands on social media? Any brands out there conspicuously absent?

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