Silence Is Golden

In this new “enlightened” era of joining the conversation, it appears that the ship has set sail once and for all on the debate as to whether or not brands should participate in online conversations. But today I’m going to talk about avoiding the conversation and I’ll offer five diverse perspectives on when it’s (arguably) better to remain on the sidelines and observe in silence.

1. Timing is everything.

Just because you’ve implemented an extensive “commitment-to-conversation” program and –thanks to your listening strategy-are ready to pounce the very millisecond anyone has anything to say, this doesn’t mean you always should.

For starters, it’s a little creepy if a big brand responds too quickly. There’s a fine line between listening and spying (listening in). Secondly, always make sure a response is warranted and, if so, that it’s warranted by you. Thirdly, don’t discriminate between types of people and/or different levels of sentiment. While we tend to take our fans/promoters for granted-not necessarily the best play-on the flip side, we tend to jump in headfirst to counter negative or critical comments, Oftentimes (and I know it’s happened to me more often than not), this comes across as defensive or contradictory.

2. Give time for the community to respond.

If you’ve earned the trust and affinity of a base of consumers, why not let them respond on your behalf? There’s nothing more credible than when your community comes to your rescue to defend your position/perspective/actions. Premature conversation (there is a cure) negates the incredible phenomenon of customers as advocates and, in doing so, takes community out of the equation.

That said, be warned that this is not always the case and so there’s always going to be a judgment call in terms of when to get in the game. At some point, you will need to act.

3. There’s no etiquette when it comes to disrespect.

I used to believe that everyone, no matter what they say, deserves a respectful response. If people are spoken to in a respectful manner, with genuine empathy, they’re more likely to be “turned around” and change their tone. I’ve since changed my tune. My take now is that rude and insulting posts or comments do not warrant or deserve a response. Frequently, we’re talking about people with an axe to grind or personal agenda to advance. More likely than not, you’re not going to change their minds or their position, so why bother? Why deflect your already scarce resources?

A sad by-product is that-like in many focus groups — the active minority will overpower and ruin things for the silent majority. But once the drinking waters are muddied, it’s time to move on and/or take the conversation elsewhere.

As an aside, it’s important for you to run interference internally and externally to help manage expectations when it comes to filtering and internalizing these comments. Don’t take these comments at face value and don’t allow your management to be influenced either by overtly destructive feedback.

4. When cool becomes unkewl.

Let’s face it, we’ve spent our entire professional lives believing our brand of deodorant, clothing, bank or vehicle represents the epitome of pop culture, coolness and aspirational magnetism. The reality is not always reflective of our idealistic perceptions. Oftentimes, when we slap our corporate logos and titles all over an otherwise organic and decentralized conversation, we create an instant downer.

Case in point: the many online polls predicting how long it will take to completely destroy Twitter based on the deluge of mainstream/established celebrities and brands joining the fray. Sorry, @oprah.
5. Response and responsiveness.

My final point is short and sweet. If you’re going to respond with canned, empty, superficial and transparent (the bad kind) dialog, don’t bother. A response needs to be comprehensive and it needs to be effective. If there’s a problem, there needs to be some kind of resolution or, at least, a genuine attempt at its resolution. Pizza Hut is currently looking for an intern to represent an entire brand’s equity, integrity and point of view in the Twitterverse. Wrong move. Dead wrong move. You don’t bring a wooden sword to fight a fear-breathing dragon. Likewise, you don’t bring a green, entry-level intern to represent an entire corporation in the conversation.

If they’re not equipped and/or empowered to respond quickly and properly, the result can often be a backfire and/or backlash.

Those are my five “conversation avoider” conversation starters. I’d love to hear yours.

Joseph Jaffe is president and chief interruptor at crayon. You can watch him at