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Social Media: What is your approach? Be true to your values.

We all strive to have a perfect day, sell the perfect product, say only the right things.  Unfortunately, despite all our greatest intentions or efforts, things do happen.   Ralph Savage , Business Journalist, PR Professional and Visiting Lecturer at UCLAN shared an article recently via LinkedIn:  Social Media: Squeaky Clean Image . He inquired if anyone had any thoughts on this issue, stating/asking: "It's probably time for companies to have a policy on dealing with customers spouting off in chatrooms/twitter/facebook and so on isn't it?"

I reflected and, having recently encountered a situation which touched on this, I wanted to share my response. 

As we become more active on social media, I think that it is important to actively analyze the potential for situations that could be damaging to our company's image. This is good business practice in any circumstance. On the same token, if we run our businesses with integrity, commit to upholding strong service values and ethics, then negative feedback or situations like this will not receive the buzz or attention feared - they may in fact turn into opportunities. Opportunities to show real situations and how they are favorably resolved - all in the public eye.

The world is not a perfect place , so how can we expect the social media stage to be? We have been dealing with responding to issues all along, now it is simply a matter of adapting to a new stage.

In my opinion, to succeed at this, the company's reputation, product & service need to be strong enough that the occasional outcry won't create a ruckus. Instead, readers will follow with interest.

Response has to be immediate and also in the public eye, so that the record is set straight.

  • If you know your company is having a service issue, address it proactively and let others know what you are trying to do about it. This way, if a situation comes up, you have already put it on the table.

I think that, as an organization, you also need to make a decision about when you can focus on social media. If you have a failing product line, or a servicing issue, then perhaps it is not the best move to put yourself out there. Build your core first. Make sure you are operating to your standards, then promote. That’s the most proactive action anyone can take. Anything else is simply bad business.

We recently had our first "angry fan" on our Facebook page. A client who had been denied a claim found us on Facebook and aired a very nasty commentary regarding our service, making reference to how unfair the insurer was and how mistreated he had been by our brokerage. Naturally, this post was not only alarming, but disheartening. We now had an angry follower, who was potentially risking our image.

In addition, a second issue became evident: We had left ourselves open to some very negative publicity on our fan page. We were not prepared because we had not foreseen that our clients would use our fan page to generate such harmful publicity.

A bit of background on the issue. This client was upset that his insurance claim requesting removal of mould and its subsequent damage had been denied.  He was now faced with full repair at his cost. Insurance is meant to cover sudden and accidental damage. Mold is certainly not sudden, and in his case would have taken months to develop. It is important to note that no insurer in any available market would have covered it.  His frustration and anger at the denial of the claim was misdirected. He hadn’t accepted our initial response or explanations and therefore he used another means to restore equity: he attacked our public image.

I think that this is a good time to reflect upon the idea that if we, as relationship managers, set up strong and clear means to handle complaints, and we handle them effectively within that structure, the client may not feel the need to find another way.

This is how we handled our situation.

Fortunately we monitor our pages regularly throughout the day and evening. We were able to see the post within about 2 hours of it appearing.

  • We reacted quickly.

We decided that, since the bad publicity had already gone out, we needed to control the situation in the public eye...not sweep it under a rug.

  • The president of our company replied to his post with a detailed explanation and addressed all items the client brought up. The reply was professional and genuine. We took responsibility for the situation, yet made it clear what the actual situation was. (This is where integrity and always operating by your values comes in to save the day).
  • We contacted the client by phone and directly addressed the situation. We also let him know that we had responded to him publicly.

We successfully managed the public relations challenge presented by this client.  We were happy with our reaction and public response, but still had to evaluate this new social media threat and come up with a plan.

We asked ourselves, how did we leave ourselves open to this? Had we not seen this post in time,  great damage could have been done.

  • We reviewed the settings available on our Facebook pages and made some changes controlling how users could interact with our page.
  • We closed off the ability to create new topics on the wall (disabling broadcast to all our followers in their news feeds). However, we maintained the ability for fans to comment on all posts. We took more control of our page and its capabilities (advice: know your social media tools) -  something that we should have done from the onset.  

This experience had taken us by surprise; however, it gave us a great learning experience and opportunity. We now have strategies in place to manage our social media and we make sure to be proactive in controlling how our various efforts are managed and promoted.

We are a third generation family run business. Although we have grown over the past 85 years to a point that we do not/can not run like a small "mom and pop" shop, we maintain those values in what we do every day.

We live by referral. Having lived through this situation, I believe it was the fact that we maintain our values and always strive to do our best for our clients that saved us.

By handling situations immediately and in a straightforward, honest way, I think we can all sleep better because we believe in the way we do business and in our products & services. When service issues come up, we can have faith that the disaster will not spread like fire because we will step up and do some quality crisis control.

  • We need to implement Social Media Policies within our firms, keeping in mind they must be tailored to our products and services.
  • We need to know the tools we are using and make sure that they meet the objective of what we are trying to achieve.
  • We need to have integrity. Provide good service and support to our clients every day. Recognize that this is the core of our business. 

The world will always have complainers, you can't control the world. You can take control of your world and how you approach situations and respond as an organization.

Ask yourself: What is our approach going to be? Align it with your values.

If we focus on this, maintain service levels, and product integrity, then social media will support continued success and what we do in a very positive way - every time.

Be true to your values, and this is what you will be known for.

Comments

_DebbieRussell

This is such a poignant post on a real life situation. Your honesty in sharing your social media problem is refreshing and can help other agents learn "best practices". Your agency is very wise to take control of your brand & I applaud you.

I have over 30 yrs. experience in Marketing for various insurance cos. Most recently, I have been helping agents personally brand themselves in a new way to capture prospects and retain clients. Most are not as progressive and forward thinking as your agency.

I am now following you on Twitter as it can be a great source of business for you when done correctly. Thank you for creating a learning experience.

Debbie Russell, CIC
http://www.debbierussell.me

Jason Hoeppner

Great post, thanks for sharing the experience.
One thing I would add though is to be careful discussing specific policy (or claims) related items in the online public forum. This could potentially open up E&O exposure. Anything beyond the general aspects of insurance, especially dealing with the specifics of coverage (which will probably not be the same for all of your clients), should be taken to a direct line of communication.
Regards,
Jason Hoeppner

Mila Araujo

Dear Jason,
Thank you so much for your comments! Definitely in the insurance field, we need to always be cautious as brokers when referring to specifics.

Insurance is regulated (differently) in many places and coverages per insurer are different.

Fortunately, many coverage concepts are similar enough that we can provide a resource online to help guide people in the right direction.

I try and write my blogs giving generalized information, and usually try and focus on questions people can ask their brokers, or insurers to be able to understand how their specific insurance policies apply.

I found this especially challenging when I wrote my most recent post on water damage last week, given I do have more information that what I listed, but kept a great deal out because I wanted to stay generalized. It is a balancing act.

For insurance brokers this is/will be the biggest challenge in Social Media, and one that should always be on our minds as we blog or give advice.

For the consumer, it is always important to ask the questions to your specific representative or insurance carrier to make sure of how these issues apply to you. <--This is what I try and deliver when I am writing about coverages - some information to think about and explore - so you always win with your insurance.

Thanks again for taking the time to comment! You brought up a really good point to always keep in mind for those of us in an advisory role :)

James Coleman

Hi Mila,

This is a great post, and the situation was handled admirably. Remaining true to your values is certainly pertinent, as is having a plan to deal with such situations.

I've written about a recent situation that has arisen and in my opinion, was not handled greatly - in this case, should the situation have been handled in a similar manner to your recommendations, it would not have escalated into a media frenzy. You can read about that at http://t.co/xaPQ5fb

Thanks for sharing this article - I will be sure to look out for future posts.

Melissa Agnes

Hi Mila,

Great, thorough post! Thanks for sharing it on the Linkedin discussion I created!! Seems like you guys are handling yourselves beautifully online and know the importance of reacting and responding to a social media crisis right away - and the right way!

The only thing that struck me, was how you removed the ability for fans to make comments on your Facebook Wall. Do you find that, although worried for a repeat negative situation, you are limiting your brand to all the great things that fans could be potentially writing on your wall as well? Perhaps they would out weigh the negative? As well, as a complaint provides your brand with unique opportunities - that you obviously know the right way to handle and correct!

Really great post and case study! Thanks for sharing!

Melissa Agnes

www.SocialMediaCrisisAcademy.com

Mila Araujo

Hi Melissa! I totally agree with what your comment is. The reason we removed the ability to post on the wall is primarily because we haven't officially launched our Facebook, Twitter or other SoMe to our clients yet, so we aren't driving it (so to speak). Its essential to have someone monitoring and using social media in order to be able to be responsive. Therefore, when we launch in January, I totally agree that the wall should be reopened as we will have in place the necessary support for our FB fan page!

Our measure was simply taken because we were aware that we were not yet equipped to monitor to page, and respond at the speed we felt it was necessary to provide a good customer experience. Rest assured, full interaction will be included in our launch for sure!

Its one of the important parts of a Social Media strategy to *not* implement things before you are able to handle them, yet not to be afraid to jump in and get things started in whatever capacity you can. It is okay to take steps. :)


Melissa Agnes

Great Mila!

You guys seem to have such a great handle on the right way to go about it, and what is and will be expected of you within Social Media once you launch fully!!

I wish you a great launch in January - and don't forget to let me know when you do, cause I will be glad to go and join your communities!! (Let me know via the Linkedin group or this post!)

To your upcoming success!

Happy Holidays, :)
Melissa

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