Monday, December 12, 2005

Blogs for damage control: strategy

Blog strategy for
damage control:


Blogocombat against negative
blog posters and commenters]

Dave Taylor, at his Intuitive Life Business Blog, asks for blogger opinions on how to use blogs to do damage control for a company.

A product is getting a lot of negative blogospheric commentary. The client wants to know how to do Damage Control. Apparently, the negative comments are half true, and half false.

Thus, the company is not entirely innocent, and this is a huge factor to deal with in the corporate response.

The client wonders if they should hire a real blogger to do the damage control. Start a blog that addresses the issues? Visit the blogs where the negative posts and comments are occuring, and enter the debate as an official representative? Or just let a regular PR company handle it all?

There are many complex issues to consider, but let me lay a groundwork, a foundation for an overall strategic orientation of blogocombat in this realm of Corporate Damage Control Blogging.

Know the Whole Truth: Tell As Much As Necessary

Be candid. The blogosphere is based on openness and straight talking.

Bloggers can smell a hidden agenda, an undisclosed unsavory fact, and a fearful self-defensive exasperation, so don't even think of trying to hide or be something you're not. Even though most companies aren't used to approaching the lowly consumer with an enforced honesty and mandatory sincerity, still, it must be done in this manner, or not at all.

How to say you did something dumb or wrong, without giving any room for implications that you are thoroughly dumb or wrong, that can be tricky. You need an expert writer, marketing strategist, and psychological detective as your Damage Control Blogger.

Politicians never admit they made any mistakes or have any regrets. This lowers their credibility, which is the opposite of what the politicians intended. They stupidly think that if they admit any weakness or error, the other party will pounce on it and blow it out of proportion. They fear that the public will get fixated on that weakness or error, and the other party will be able to base a whole campaign on opposing it.

This is paranoid, childish thinking. The truth cannot harm anyone, only lies and shadings end up causing real, irrecoverable damage.

Focus on Customer, NOT Corporate, Damage Control

But the first thing is this: make the client see that this public response must be all about Fixing Customer Damage, not protecting the company from bad publicity. The orientation has to be altruistic, customer-focused. That's the first thing to do.

Not "Damage Control", but "Customer Reconciliation". That's how it must be described and understood. Do whatever it takes to (1) tell the truth completely and simply, and (2) make the offended, disappointed customers happy and trusting again.

The client must *quickly* confess, admit they made a mistake. Then explain any exaggerations or errors in the opponent's accusations. Be honest and bold, but not arrogant or self-approving. The slightest stench of aloof grandiosity will anger the bloggers who expect truth, transparency, candor, sincerity.

Damage control ideally is done by the corporate person responsible. It's that simple.

And get the truth, then proceed from there, the full truth at its very ugliest. The bloggers will keep digging up details, so the Damage Control person has to know 10 times more than any dirt digger could ever come up with.

Even if you hire a PR agency or a blogger, you still have to get that Corporate Person who is Responsible, meaning who created the "problem", to explain his side of it to them, completely and very candidly.

Then, the Corporate Person, or the blogger, or the PR person must polish his verbal or written statements, guide him as you all, as a team craft the response. You may want to do a usability test or focus group study on it, prior to full launch into the blogosphere, whether it's a new Damage Control Blog, or a Damage Control Blogger who posts comments at those opposing blogs.

Realize This is Blogocombat

For damage control in the blogosphere, you MUST use a professional blogger: aggressive, intelligent, dipolmatic, known for confrontation, famous for winning blogocombat debates, and overwhelmingly charming, without being crafty in a negative, sleazy sense, but with street smarts.

This is the Job Description for a new kind of blogger, the highly specialized Damage Control Blogocombat Blogger.

This is what is needed. Some sharp-tongued, kind-hearted, fast-reacting blogger who can pulverize the opposing view, without offending good taste or corporate dignity. Some one the other blog readers will cheer as "funny, self-assured, and fair", someone people will like.

If it's a suit spouting corporate fluff apologies, or dubious pleas of innocence, it will turn off the blogosphere. The company spokesperson, the blogger, must be authentic and even somewhat critical of the company, stating his or her own negative opinion, to some degree, to establish a bond and a credibility with the opposing bloggers.

"Come on guys, you know XYZ Company has provided mostly great products for 35 years, and their service support isn't too shabby either. As far as customer-friendly, XYZ's not too bad, all in all. Now something slipped through the cracks, got past our inspectors, and we shipped some shoddy doohickeys. We're very embarrassed and hurt to think that some loyal customers will leave and never return. All for one dumb mistake. Sorry. To try to make up for it, we're racing to do whatever it takes to win you back and somehow compensate for the trouble we caused you...[etc.]"

Figure out what type, psychological style of blogs they are with the neg. commentary on the client. Then think of how best to talk to this crowd. Tough and brief? Or sweet and lengthy? Those are the two major divisions of styles.

Don't want to say a lot, but not too brief either.

But you or whoever writes the damage control posts *must* be able to talk on the wavelength of the typical anti-company commenter and the other readers and authors of these blogs. This is crucial. An aloof, arrogant discourse will be attacked as "more corporate fluff BS". A wimpy avoidance will be considered proof of organizational guilt and immorality.

A Damage Control Blogger who sounds like a press release, a corporate brochure, or a politician, will be rejected by the blogosphere, and the blogs opposing your client's company will do more that reject it. They'll use at as more fuel for the fire. Your whole Damage Control effort will backfire, and cause even more negative blogospheric commentary.

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


"It's not your teenager's blogosphere anymore, and never was."

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