Socially Irresponsible

Some small business owners don’t believe in using experts for social media engagement and content development. They see the practice as novel and unproven – until it isn’t.

Such is the case of The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, N.Y. This picturesque small town inn quickly discovered the demonstrative impact of social media when comments about a fines-for-reviews policy hit the inn’s Facebook page and Yelp, the popular online review site.

According to an ABC News story resulting from the social media dust-up, the inn claims its “policy” was posted to its website as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding from years ago and should have been taken down. The policy in essence stated bridal parties would be fined $500, taken from deposit monies, for each negative review the inn might receive connected to a particular wedding or event.

A Google search for the inn's name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business' bottom line.

A Google search for the inn’s name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business’ bottom line.

Unfortunately, a simple Google search of the inn’s name now produces both a link to the inn’s website, as well as countless social media and news articles referencing this not-so-amusing policy.

The result is a Search Engine Optimization nightmare for the inn coupled with a runaway train of negative comments on its Facebook page (more than 200 at this writing; although it appears the inn may now be deleting posts from its Facebook page).

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn's Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn’s Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

The news coverage and social media firestorm – with only a half-hearted response from management that appears to have since been deleted  – have created a massive public relations problem to overcome. This isn’t the type of crisis you wait out. And without a strategy for responding to and recovering from this communications nightmare, The Union Street Guest House is likely to see a steep decline in business, assuming it has the wherewithal to survive at all.

Small businesses are successful because they do what they do well. Where they often fail is when they try to do something outside of their expertise.

By consulting with a social media professional or brand content specialist, small businesses can avoid errors – even tongue-in-cheek responses – that might not seem substantial at the time, but with an extra set of trained eyes, can be seen for the potential disasters they are and thus avoided. Alternatively, bringing in the professionals after a crisis has erupted is not optimal, but it can mean the difference between staying in business or going under.

Most freelancers or public relations agencies can find equitable arrangements with small businesses that won’t break the bank, and can avoid or attempt to correct business-ending mistakes.

For a free consultation on how working with a public relations agency can help protect and promote your business, please contact me at rhughes@kimballpr.com.

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Managing Your Small Business’ Online Reputation

Congratulations! You've taken your business online. So how do you leverage this into new customers or clients while also protecting your reputation?

Congratulations! You’ve taken your business online. So how do you leverage this into new customers or clients while also protecting your reputation?

Congratulations intrepid entrepreneur! If you’ve taken the plunge and launched your small business into the social media space, you’ve taken a bold step that offers many risks and rewards.

More than 72 percent of U.S. adults who go online use social networking sites, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. By choosing to put your brand out there, a bevy of potential rewards (i.e., Likes, followers, sharing blog posts, positive reviews and online recommendations) await your brand. With a little effort applied to communication your messages, attention to superior online customer service that reflects your brand and by trying to genuinely connect with your customers, you can turn your social media presence into a noteworthy repository of goodwill for your business that reward you handsomely over time.

The effort is also not without risk.

In the days before social media, one bad customer experience typically translated to the customer telling 10 friends of their displeasure. With the advent of social media, however, your brand runs the risk of being shamed before 100 or 1,000 social media followers. For some power networkers, those numbers are substantially higher.

It’s imperative small businesses understand, on average, about 46 percent of web users turn to social media before making a purchase to decide if the business or product is “trustworthy” or reputable. This means, to paraphrase a legendary phrase from actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, you are what the online community says you are.

On Oct. 18 at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pa., small business owners that include restaurants, outdoor and adventure destinations, bed & breakfasts and others will gather for Visit Bucks County’s Annual Membership Meeting. Attendees will have an opportunity to attend a morning seminar on establishing and maintaining online presences to help their businesses grow.

As one of the featured speakers, I’ll be sharing insights and tips on how these businesses can protect and defend their online reputations. I’ll offer examples of good, and not so good, online customer service. In addition I’ll provide insider tips for managing these online presences under a variety of circumstances.

Check back on this blog next week for some top line thoughts on the subject as well as insights and anecdotes offered by some of the small businesses I meet with at the VBC Annual Meeting.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/infusionsoft/4820986909/”>Infusionsoft</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

Filling in the Blanks

If you learn anything in public relations, it’s that when you leave a communication vacuum, people fill it with their own information. And the information they are left to fill in is not often flattering. So, you would think the big airlines could apply that lesson to their customer service. Apparently not.

Edgar Barany / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I had settled in on my Delta flight back from New Orleans, connecting in Atlanta en route to Newark. Just before take off, the pilot tells us that because there was significant turbulence when the plan arrived at Louis Armstrong Airport, they needed to do a physical inspection. In just a few minutes we’d be on our way.

A few minutes later, he breaks the bad news. A mechanic has to perform the inspection and they do not have anyone in the Big Easy to do the job. They are flying in someone from Atlanta or Minneapolis to do the job, and it will be “a few hours.”

Once we begin to consider the implication of an airline not having a mechanic at an airport to do an inspection, we deplane en masse and head to the Sky Club, bar, ticket counter or wait at the gate to rebook our connections.

Fast forward to “a few hours” later and they announce we will be boarding at 1:55 p.m. At 1:55, a flight attendant strolls out of the gate, so I inquire. He sheepishly tells me they have been told nothing by Delta but their schedule says 4 p.m. I share my new information with my new airport friends and lead a line at the counter to rebook my rebooked connection.

My airport friends and I tried to laugh, but for those sitting and waiting with no information, it was anger, disgust and murmurs of “Delta sucks.” All the $25 food vouchers and apologies by the faultless flight crew could not help.

Delta left their worried, anxious customers in the dark for over an hour. Their crew and airport staff lacked both the information and authority to advise and mitigate the fallout among angry passengers. A few communications basics could have helped:

  • Know your audience is tired, worried and anxious, so communicate frequently.
  • Be forthright (we wouldn’t board at 1:55) and honest as circumstances developed (we might be leaving as late as 4 p.m., but hopefully sooner)
  • Acknowledge what we experienced (inconvenience, frustration) so we knew they cared.

People understand mistakes, but when left in the dark they fill in the blanks – and it’s not an image an airline or anyone else wants.

C’mon Delta, you have the resources to do better.

Photo credit: Edgar Barany / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA