Over the past few days the social media world has been rocked by what is the perfect example of a great marketing coup. The company in question replied to a response from a customer (rather it was the spouse of a customer) and did so in a funny and lighthearted way. In doing so they demonstrated that when brands show a human side, and even make fun at themselves, then they’re far more likely to edge out the competition.

Here’s the backstory: ​

Bodyform, a feminine hygiene company, was contacted on their Facebook page by a rather irate spouse of one of their customers. It seems that the young man in question had been watching Bodyform’s ads for quite some time, which often show women on their periods riding horses or accomplishing every day activities, and he could not wait to be in a relationship so he could see this wonderful three day period in action. Unfortunately the reality of the situation was far more daunting. Here is his complaint in full: ​

​Now it is quite obvious that the man wrote this in jest (at least I hope he did). The comment went viral quickly and appeared on a number of different websites before being promulgated through the social media sites themselves. A community manager has a few choices when facing such a situation. They can respond, delete the post or simply ignore it. Delete and ignoring  posts are two cardinal sins in the social media manager bible. Doing such things shows a lack of respect or care for customer interaction with the brand which a definite no-no. 

Luckily the brand decided that they should respond and they decided to do so humorously. Here is their response:  ​

​As you can see it was quite a hilarious response. It cost the brand nothing and it was a fantastic marketing coup for them. This is a perfect example of one brand capitalising on a social media firestorm. The original post managed to increase the number of likes on their Facebook page and the response boosted their recognition even more. They are seen as a light-hearted company that can poke fun both at themselves and the whole genre of feminine hygiene product advertising (notice that the ‘CEO’ is drinking blue water). This was all in all an incredibly successful marketing reply. Now the company has to capitalise on the increased attention and followers that they have received. Without doing this then the free advertising that they have gotten would be in vain.  So for the time being everything is coming up roses for Bodyform. 

But what happens if you respond poorly to a campaign? One of the sharpest examples of a poor response (and there have been many examples of a poor response by brands) was that of Nestle in 2010. The company was targeted by environmentalist group Greenpeace for where they source a particular product. Nestle responded by conceding that they would alter their sourcing policies but asked that activists cease to use pictures that were in fact altered Nestle logos.   

The company was lambasted by their Facebook fans and marketing experts who said that it was not the right way to respond to customers. Whilst Nestle does have the right to protect their intellectual property it was not an example of a great response to a campaign against you. ​

We welcome your comments, but please don’t post using an altered version of any of our logos as your profile pic – they will be deleted

— Nestle’s response to Facebook ‘fans’ protesting their sourcing policies.

But what could Nestle have done? How should they have responded to the Greenpeace campaign? Well they responded correctly by altering their sourcing policies, that kept Greenpeace happy, but they immediately lost all goodwill when they lashed out at those who were protesting.  Every brand should have a PR crisis plan. This is in the event that something goes wrong, you accidentally send out a tweet with a swear word in it or your ex-community manager gets a little bit drunk after you fire him and ​tweets obscenities about you at your followers (not a joke…it has happened before and it was hilarious). These days if you are a brand then you should consider your social media sites an open forum for people to trash you. You have to treat them as such. You will get concerted protests against your Facebook and Twitter profiles. It’s impossible for everyone over the world to descend on the corporate headquarters of Apple, Coca-Cola or Nestle but it is easy enough for them to send messages to your corporate brands on the web. However by having a well staffed and well trained social media team then any attack against your brand can be diverted. You may suffer a few bad comments from activists but if your team responds quickly then they can make sure that business isn’t impacted. It’s also important to maintain a personal face of your brand. Introduce yourself as ‘Michael from XYZ’ who is here to listen. Allow activists to comment and respond to each one. No comment should go without a response. This shows the activists, and everyone watching and not commenting, that someone is listening. 

It is also important to add a discussion board to your Facebook page. ​This will do a number of things. Firstly, and most crucially, it will remove the torrent of comments being left on your wall. You will be able to make threads for each specific grievance that your customers have. This means that the conversations will all be focused rather than having your customers launch into a tangent. You will have made order out of chaos and it will be easier for both the company and the activists to respond. 

Do NOT get defensive or get pushed over. Respond to all complaints with facts and do so politely. As a community manager you are the face of the brand. Because of this you must adhere to extreme levels of courtesy even as your opponent is swearing at you. Your argument will be guided by facts rather than emotion. ​

Ask your detractors for advise. It’s important to understand that many of these people simply want their voices and ideas heard. Ask them how they would react with a sourcing problem or a marketing issue and then tell them that you will present it to the upper management. Many of them know that the person who is caretaker of a Facebook group isn’t exactly the CEO and so they will understand if you have to answer to a superior, or several levels of bureaucracy, before you can get them an answer. The advantage of all of this is that it will refocus the energy of the mob into doing something constructive. Make sure that you follow up complaints and suggestions with your superior and perhaps even open a permanent section on your Facebook page and website for ideas from the public. ​

With the crisis over you can go about your day knowing that you have earned your paycheque for that week.