Responding (or not) to Social Media

Social media marketing is a two-edged sword. (That’s a ridiculous metaphor, when you come to think of it. Two-edged swords are about as dangerous to their owners as single-edged swords. A two-ended sword, were there such a thing, might be more to the…um…point.) By enabling a company to engage its audience in real two-way discussions, social media marketing leads the audience to believe that the company cares about them and they, in response, come to care about the company or its product or service.

That’s fine when customer feedback is of the “Hey, love your product” variety, and your company responds with “Thanks Biff! Wait till you taste our new coconut crunch flavor, coming out next July!” It even works when Biff asks nicely for things you can’t or won’t do, and you can respond “Thanks for the input. We never considered a salmon-flavored soft drink before, but we’ll put the idea into the hopper.” Biff comes away thinking that at least you’re listening and that his opinion matters to you. A positive relationship has been established.

But things can get tricky when Biff has an agenda, or if Biff is a troll. Then, nothing but your acceptance or approval of his standpoint will satisfy him, and your reasoned objections to his opinion will elicit only bile:

“Hey, you guys have to stop selling your product in Communist China, because FREEDOM!”

“Biff, UltraCorp believes that the Chinese people deserve the benefits of CyberCrunchies too. They’re an inexpensive source of Vitamin X, they secretly implant pro-capitalist microchips under the skin of consumers, and they generate $2 billion in revenues for our Idaho-based company, helping reduce the US trade deficit with China.”

“Freedom isn’t free you f***face. You think my daddy left his legs on Omaha Beach so that we could trade with Commies?”

Since there’s not no winning this “argument,” there’s no sense in continuing it. Literally nothing you say or do will satisfy Biff, unless you agree to exactly what he wants. At this point, you can delete the offensive conversation from the media. Biff will see this as confirmation that he’s right, and he’ll say so, unless you ban him entirely. Especially if you ban him, he’ll likely spread the conversation across other social media that you don’t control, where it’ll arouse the ire of other Biff-minded individuals who previously had nothing against your company.

A better response may be none at all, leaving Biff’s absurd reply as the last word on the subject. This is a difficult choice for a few reasons. It’s intellectually offensive to allow such nonsense to go unanswered. Absurd as it may be, Biff’s argument will be persuasive to some (hopefully small) fraction of the audience who, like Biff, will be convinced that your lack of a reply is equivalent to consent. At it can be an ego blow: declining to answer, when you know you’re right and he’s wrong, feels like losing the argument.

The advantage of this approach, however, is threefold. By allowing him the last word on the subject, Biff thinks he’s won, and he’ll be less likely to cross-post the conversation to other media. For those in the audience who are not already fanatical supporters of Biff’s agenda, the absurdity of Biff’s response condemns itself, and that condemnation then becomes the last word on the subject. Your marketing ego has to be mature enough to understand that.

The most important reason not to respond, however, is simply to allow the subject to die. The shorter the conversation, the fewer people in your audience who will notice, much less be engaged by it or share it. The day after Biff’s last, unanswered response, the conversation will have dropped off the first page of your wall and it will have been forgotten by every reader except Biff. It’s become a blip, not a controversy.