Flame Wars: Online Campaign Counter Measures to PR Tricks : Reverse Engineering PR Tips for Effective Corporate Pressure Campaigns.
Ever find your community locked in battle with corporate public relations team? Ever wonder about ways you can mobilize consumers to help you boycott a product? (Are you a woman that works for Wal-Mart?) I have been thinking about these tactics for a bit (winning the game of web dominance July 2003) However, a recent newsletter finally offered a few points to work from for a guide on flaming corporate reputations. (I would image the same would be true for elected officials, software, opposition groups, etc.)
The Marketingsherpa sent along an interview with
Pete Blackshaw. Pete helps public relations and marketing experts develop strategy to counter consumer rage. If you read carefully you can find some great tips on ways to pressure companies and disrupt the "spin and control" cycle the public relations gurus would like to exert over your voice.
"As many as 70% of consumers who contact your company with a complaint will also post their complaint in a public online forum. --This year, consumers will post almost a billion comments and reviews
of brands online." So instead of recommending listening to complaint, addressing complaint quickly and changing behavior to satisfy customers, we have back to PR-Manipulation 101. There are a few great factoids and interested tips in the article for online advocacy campaigners.
There were a few thoughts that jumped out as potential points for contemplation and discussion for online advocacy campaign strategists.
1. Good comments and opinion online are worth far more than the ads used to counter them. Conversations about companies and products are very difficult for companies to hide or spin. High traffic boards and fresh content may be ranked higher on searches than the website of the product.
How much control do consumers really have over your brand presence online? --- 976 million high-impact ads worth.
2. The more details and personal voice you use the more valuable your comments are to the campaign. Details of discussions, product use, responses by target, etc. demonstrate your engagement and build credibility.
3. Some sites are more powerful for the review than your website (hint ..Center for New American Dream). E-opinons, Amazon comments, review discussions, a-list blogs.
4. Here is a shocker finding supporting the network-centric approach to advocacy campaigns...people trust other people more than names or brands....
2004 Forrester/Intelliseek research shows that more than 60% of consumers trust other consumers' online postings about products and brands. In comparison, pop-ads are only trusted by roughly 5%, search ads by less than 40%, branded ads by less than 50%. So an individual consumer post may have far greater impact than the online ad campaign you paid for.
That research alone maybe worth another rant. This also resonates with some stuff I was reading from a talk from the Microsoft campus by Dr Weinberger (Cluetrain manifesto, small pieces...)
5 Reporters use the web. Another voice explains that the press do have internet access and that they use it when working on a story.
Last but not least, reporters are increasingly influenced by online buzz. "They use it as a starting point for commentary on a brand. It often serves as a counterpoint to company information," says Blackshaw.
5 things you can do to run a more successful pressure campaign against your opposition.
1. Jump first and fast. A short burst of intensive activity will create message saturation effects. It is important to dominate the space for a short time rather than a long drawn out dribble campaign. Quickly get your message out and posted. (The first comments in a string often anchor additional discussion and the conversations. The also register on searches and could be picked up as a "high" action item by bloggers and other monitors.)
2. Flame message boards, blogs and review sites with detailed personal accounts of frustration with the company. When you wrote your first letter of complaint (post an image of the product or letter they sent back.) Detail time line and comments. The more you talk about the process to highlight your concerns and opinions the more your credibility grows with the readers.
3. Build a group and cohesion among the folks working on the campaign (set up a listserve, care2 group, etc) get everyone working off the same sheet of music no matter what discussion boards they are working on. Set up a "google news alert" with the company name and blast your message into any comment areas or discussions related to news coverage. (http://www.google.com/newsalerts?hl=en)
4. Create a list of important sites to dominate.
These might include: usenet postings on portals such as MSN, Yahoo, AOL, and Google, industry related vertical sites, clubs and microcommunities where fans and enthusiasts hang out, blogs and moblogs, eretailers such as eBags who solicit customer reviews, and review sites where small (but active) groups of consumers gather to complain, such as complaints.com, or review or rate products, such as epinions.com.- kudos -peter
5. Be Believable. (lots of details and digital images) build on traction of message. (small groups on discussion boards can really create energy around a topic)
If a user who's talking about your product has actually had experience with the product, "that means a lot more than if they mention the brand but show no evidence they actually used it." Another test of believability is to check other posts surrounding the user's comment. Do other users seem to resonate with what has been said?
6. Identify key issues
What are your target audience going to care the most about? (Hint ..Oceana should start a "sick ship" discussion board. ) Travelers want to know which ships are prone to flu outbreaks and then use the attention to talk about the fact that cruises dump the waste of a small city overboard as they cruise.
To identify key issues being discussed about your products or services online, ask yourself: which issues inspire the most emotional discussions? Which issues spread from one forum to another (for example: do hostile rumors go from a Usenet to blogs to third-party sites)? Which issues spread faster than others?
There were some other interesting ideas that advocacy campaigns should play with in the membership questionnaires. Find out how many of your members are active in online discussion forums, community listserves and blogs. (These become the core team of your online activists).