Can Businesses Combat the Constant, Experienced Complainer?

By Liana “Li” Evans

As a business, no doubt you will have your run in with an upset customer or two. But what happens when that customer turns into a troll? Or what happens when you are subjected to the “experienced complainer”?

Santa with the Reindeer ComplainerWhat’s an experienced complainer? Well those are the people who know how to “troll” the system. Knowing that if they complain enough, they’ll be placated with discounts, coupons, certificates, and special things all to “soothe” their complaints. They then figure out they can do this just about anywhere they go. All of a sudden, seemingly or magically they get free trips, special discounts, and the like, all because they threaten to write a letter of complaint. These days, even more damaging, they threaten to write a negative review on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor or Epinions, or even possibly more damaging – write a blog post with a scathing review, with links to your website that are nofollowed.

As customers, I’m sure we’ve seen these types of people. Nothing ever makes them happy, not even free things (undoubtedly they’ll find something wrong with that, too). So what’s a company to do? How can they fight back? Can they takes steps to protect their good name and reputation from these types of complainers, scammers and trolls?

Seems helpless doesn’t it? Well take heart, people in these social communities are smart. Especially if you are making an honest effort to communicate with your audience and reaching out to them. They can smell a “troll” a mile away. They can peg a constant complainer usually within 2-5 posts on a forum or a blog, and they can certainly use their own voice to “out” them as the scammer they seem to be.

Is there anything else you can do? Well in this day and age of digital photos, videos and instant reviews by bloggers and review sites, you do need to do your do diligence before taking extreme actions against the constant complainers. Research and documentation into them is probably the best course of action, to proove that the complainer has a history of “never being happy”.

Take the case of Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and a couple from Cleveland. I wrote about them on SearchMarketingGurus. This couple has done nothing but complain for years and were “soothed” with discounts, special packages and percentages off – all because they were Diamond Club members. I did a little poking around in forums, and the wife seems to leave a wide path of complaints all over the place. The communities even call her a whiner.

Royal Caribbean seems to have done a bit of homework here, and felt they’d never be able to make this couple happy. Guess what they did? They banned the couple from taking cruises on their cruise line for life. Drastic? Perhaps, but it does alleviate the issue dealing with a customer who seems more out to take advantage of your business than anything else.

While banning customers from your business might not be the first option you want to take, it is there if you have the need to do so, but prepare for backlash, undoubtedly the customer will play the victim in the end. In the case of Royal Caribbean, the local news interviewed the wife about the distressing news RC banned them, and a website or two came to her defense, saying complaining to much got them banned. But looking at other sites, the wife has been outted as a “constant whiner” – so who’s right? I guess that’s up to Royal Caribbean’s customers and online community to make their decision with their wallets.

If you are active with your audience, talking to them, interacting with them in social media, believe it or not a lot of times your customers will take up your defense. So the lesson to be learned here is hold an honest conversation with your customers or audience, as they say, the best defense, is a great offense.

I’m A Social Media Goody 2 Shoes … And Proud Of It

By Liana “Li” Evans

Goody Two Shoes Comic by Flickr User ebbourg So yet another controversy when it comes to social media. I woke up to a plether of IM’s, Private Tweets and emails, to find out I’m a “Goody2Shoes”. I guess I could be upset, but I’m not. It’s par for the course in the world of Search these days. I could lash out at SEOMoz, because as many have pointed out, they let a post go to their own blog that attacks competitors (It has now been edited, but point being they originally let it out with the rather rude attacks on Matt Cutts, Lisa Barone and myself). I’ll let all those comments on the post speak for themselves. I’m sad that SEOMoz chose the path of inciting drama and discourse, but in the end that’s Rand’s business decision where to take his business, not mine. The drama gets the site links, and traffic, and I guess that trumps everything.

As for what Marty wrote about both Lisa Barone and myself and choosing to post it on SEMoz rather than taking ownership for it on his own blog, I can only guess he really needed the larger audience for the message he wanted to convey. I read Marty’s apology, “Lii and Lisa are pillars in this community…”, while I’d like to think it’s genuine, I was on the panel in Toronto, where I heard his example of vanity baiting in his presentation, I can’t help to think and question that this might another example of it.

As for my stance, I also guess when you take a position that fake profiles on StumbleUpon, and adding lots “fake” friends to make yourself look more popular, is not a sound strategy for entering the social media space, undoubtedly you’ll get flack, from those who find no flaws with this strategy. It happens, we all have different moral compasses, we all have different things that drive us to be what we perceive as a “great marketer”.

When I was taken aback by the tactics my co-panelists in Toronto presented and posted about it, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t off base. I asked a few people who just use social media without any knowledge of search or marketing what they thought of these tactics. The first person I asked as a 14 year old son of a friend who is an avid MySpace user. I asked him what he thought about adding all these famous people as friends, his reply was just one word “Lame“. I asked a friend I hang out at karaoke with the same question, her reply was “that’s just stupid, why would you friend them unless you liked them?

Next I asked a few people who I know use StumbleUpon for pure enjoyment, they have no marketing background, what they thought about people building fake “avatars”, or “fictitious profiles” on the service (btw, that’s a blatant violation of StumbleUpon’s TOS). My one friend from the EU said, “isn’t that illegal here?” (only illegal in the UK, sorry to say), another said “people do that? why in the world do they do that, that’s just crazy, and wrong, can’t they be honest?

Now if everyday people (not marketers) are saying this about these strategies, why would I advise my clients to implement those strategies? I wouldn’t and I wouldn’t promote doing this in a session at a major online marketing conference. I don’t see how creating fake profiles (or avatars) gains anyone any kind of ground in the end, when you are found out to be a fraud, all trust is lost.

What’s wrong with being honest? Really now, what’s wrong with starting a conversation, and honest one with real brand representatives, not one greeted immediately by fake/automated avatars that want to be my friend?

The only reason I can understand why SEO’s seem so fascinated with “gaming” social media by creating fake avatars and adding all these “non-friends” is for power and links. That’s really not what social media is about, not to the people inside the communities – only to SEO’s does this seem to matter.

If advocating that in social media, marketers be real, engage honestly in conversations with an audience or their customer, is deemed as “Goody 2 Shoes”, well I’ll gladly, and proudly wear that badge.

*****

Now, I don’t know about you, but all this reference to Goody 2 Shoes, I really can’t get Adam Ant’s 80’s tune out of my head. :)

Photo/Comic Credit: ebbourg

In Social Media, Men Transact and Women Share

By Liana “Li” Evans

Men & Women Differ in Social Media UseThere is a definite difference in how men and women utilize, share, communicate and move around in social media. It’s actually fascinating to watch once you become aware of the differences. I started to notice the difference months ago, by studying the audiences in all the different social media mediums and how the people within the communities speak and communicate with one another.

My thoughts on this were further intrigued after reading two different pieces.

The first piece was Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. I read this looking at the different demographics involved with the different types of social media channels. I was utterly fascinated with how social news and social bookmarking sites skewed highly male, and forums and networking skewed highly female.

My interested was further piqued after reading a survey conducted by Rapleaf (hat tip to Dianne Aull of BootstrapSEO for turning me on to this). In this smaller study, by smaller I mean the number of social media sites looked at, it showed overwhelmingly that women dominated sites like Facebook Friendster and Myspace. In this survey it showed that LinkedIn skewed highly male.

So why the difference? Why such lopsided numbers in demographics?

If you understand anything about how men and women react to one another, in general (and understand I do realize not all women and not all men fall into these categories, but a majority do), women converse and share more. Women want to talk about their experience, they want to express their feelings whether they are raving about a product, pissed of about the service they recieved or gushing about a book they just read, women love to share. Networking sites like MySpace and forums are places that not only facilitate this, but encourage it.

Men on the other hand are less expressive. It’s rare you see a man gushing about the brand new suit he picked up at Men’s Wharehouse, or ranting about how the lawn care guy didn’t really cut his grass the way he liked. Men tend to voice their opinion in the quickest and fastest ways they can, to get back to the tasks in front of them. This is why sites like Digg, LinkedIn and Delicious skew highly male. It’s simple, you write a review, you answer a question, you vote a story up, you bookmark a page. Simple, there’s not much “sharing” going on there.

I even find it fascinating with my friends across all the different networks. The most active friends I have on the Social News Sites – 95% are men. They are the ones sending me “shout outs” to come vote up their submissions – without any explanations, just the email. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, but as a woman, I tend to want a bit more (see I’m looking for expression). Men think really nothing of this, because it’s sort of like, I vote you up, you vote me up when it’s time.

RockYou.com ButtonsWomen, on the other hand generally approach it as, “Hey do you want to read this? If you like it, feel free to vote it up”, and send me a link to the actual article/post, rather than to the social site. I’m not saying one way is right over the other, I’m just pointing out, how men and women communicate differently.

For men, its seems interacting in social networks is more like a transaction, I’ll do this for you now, you’ll help me out down the line. For women in social networks it is more about sharing their feelings, and experiences on these networks. Even these networks and companies providing applications to these networks are becoming more and more attuned to it. Look at RockYou and Slide, the designs are very geared towards women with those “glittery” options right there at that top of both.

So how does this affect marketers? By knowing your demographic, it can help you to know where to start a conversation with your potential audience at. Where you can appeal to them more, basically on their own turf, where they feel most comfortable. If you are technology company, maybe you put together a knowledge base of articles on tech topics and start working with Digg, SlashDot and Delicious. If you’re a scrapbooking company, start groups on Facebook, upload photos on Flickr and join those scrapbooking forums. Knowing where your audience is is a big part of your strategy in social media, understanding how men and women differ in social media use can also go a long way in reaching the right audiences too.

Relationship Building – 6 Tips For Working in Social Media

By Liana Evans

Building RelationshipsAs much as social media is about starting conversations, its equally as much about building relationships. Once you start getting involved with social media, it becomes very apparent that it takes time and resources to build those relationships within your community that creates the brand loyalists and promoters, not to mention converting the skeptics.

It certainly doesn’t happen over night, or with one Social News site submission. Rather, it takes dedicated resources, as in real human beings, that represent your company or your brand to communicate one on one with individuals who are active in the social circles within your industry space. Shortcuts are few and far between, and in the end, only manage to “cheapen” or even destroy the trust you’ve built up in a relationship.

Take for example, outsourcing a blogger outreach program. A lot of companies out there will spout out how many emails they can send out to bloggers pitching your product, service or brand. If they do that, you should stop, pack up your things and walk out the door. That’s not how you are going to build relationships with bloggers, that’s only going to get them pissed off at you.

So what’s a company to do? Well here’s some simple tips to get your started on building relationships in the social media space.

  • Dedicate Resources
    Building relationships in social media requires resources, both time and bodies. You need to have a dedicated person or team that fields the responsibility of communicating on a one on one level with your audience. That means that this team of people needs to read blogs, manage friend lists, write comments, join groups, upload photos, participate in forums, be active on sites like Twitter or Plurk, write blogs posts for your blog and so on. Depending on your industry, you might need to even dedicate an expert to your team that can field questions with the right answers.

  • Be Real
    Building relationships in social media requires trust. That means, be real – be who you are. Let your employees be who they are, representatives of your brand. Building fake profiles, writing fake reviews, concocting fake blogs, lying about who you really are will all eventually bite you in the ass, so don’t even bother. Don’t ever underestimate the audience’s intelligence, they can smell a fake a mile away and will crucify you when you are found out.

  • Communicate Early & Often
    Whether its through newsletters, blogs or even forum posts, get out there and communicate! By communicating “early” you have the opportunity to head off those “storms” that can arise, but not only that, you can also get a jump start on topics that are hot in your industry and respond to them a lot earlier than your competition. Communicating often helps to build that relationship with your audience that they can trust you will be there, informing them of the valuable information they are looking for or need.

  • Get Involved
    Don’t just post links to your blog posts, or press releases in Twitter or Plurk, or posts on forums. That’s just going to make people ignore you, because it’s not a two way conversation. Actually get involved with your community. If people are looking for assistance, point them in the right direction, even if its not to your site, that’ll gain you much more respect rather than slapping a link to your product that isn’t related to what they asked.

    One of the best examples of this “getting involved” point I’m making is Tim Jackson the Brand Manager of Masi Bicycles. This man is deeply involved in the Plurk community and it’s benefiting Masi by leaps and bounds. Why? Because Tim’s done the first 3 bullet points here and has also gotten involved.


  • Reward Your Audience
    One thing to always keep in mind, as much as you are involved in building relationships in social media, so is everyone in your community. It’s not just you spending the time and effort, but your audience is as well. They take the time to post reviews, type up comments, write blog posts, do research to answer questions, test out new products or services. Make sure you remember to reward your community for the efforts, time and resources they are putting in. Last but not least, always remember to personally thank those community members who put forth the extra effort.

  • Remember to Listen
    Building a relationship requires that you listen more and talk less. That means, as much as your PR department wants you to be promoting, promoting and promoting, that’s the last thing you should be doing in social media. Social media offers a unique opportunity for you to get real reactions, learn about real issues or problems as well as successes straight from your customers’ perspectives. All of this is not hindered by the stigma of a focus group, where people might think then need to “give the right answers”. It’s amazing the things you can learn just by listening to what your customers or your audience is saying, take the time to read their posts in forums, comments to your blog posts, their tweets or plurks and even what they say in reviews. It can be well worth its weight in gold.