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From CPI: Win the online discussion by playing nice

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Marketing Strategy

I attended — and tweeted from — the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry’s Technical Conference in Nashville, Tenn. On the final day, Rob Krebs from the American Chemistry Council led a session on online and social media with a simple premise: influencing the online discussion of topics and keywords that are crucial to your company.

It sounds trite and condescending to say that companies still fear e-mail, much less the Web, or that they feel any online communication is a legal minefield. Yet that was the mood among some participants in CPI’s social media session I attended. Professionals can’t influence the online conversation if they can’t even get company approval to join it.

Another false assumption is that online discussion about companies and industries and their products is always negative. But it’s not, said Krebs, who presented one study showing that most conversations about relevant keywords are “neutral.” What does “neutral” mean? It encompasses people who can be turned into “positives” over time. They need to be your focus, Krebs said.

Krebs focused on something that, too, isn’t considered cutting-edge: commenting on stories by major news websites and blogs. Doing so holds value for companies that want to target consumers and the business-to-business field. First, companies hesitant about the Web would rather let employees join existing conversations than create and operate a social presence. Second, as Krebs noted, what companies truly need is a long-term trend of positive influence. Using carefully targeted yet informative comments to slowly shape Google’s search results can generate years of benefits.

“Playing softball” was a phrase Krebs repeatedly used. In your comments, thank the author, offer helpful information and a relevant link about the product or industry, then sign off. Being nice, on topic and transparent can win over “neutrals” without angering anyone or coming across as spam.

Of course, to start influencing the online conversation, your company needs to know what it cares about, who’s talking about it and what messaging is informative, Google-friendly and legally allowable. Some tips Krebs offered:

  • Be prepared: Listen and target before diving in. Krebs recommended using an online listening platform to filter news for articles that match your company’s keywords and have an audience and clout worth targeting. Small blogs aren’t worth your time; you ideally want sites with at least tens of thousands of visitors a month. For your research, set up Google Alerts to keep abreast of news that affects your company.
  • Get permission and a list of approved phrases. Your company’s legal counsel undoubtedly will worry about your comments being taken as legally liable positions. Thus, compile a list of general, positive and factual statements touting your industry, products and benefits; once cleared by legal, you can customize your wording without straying off message.
  • Don’t be anonymous. Register at websites, or use Disqus or a similar login system, and sign your name and the name of your company or organization on comments. This establishes you in Google’s search results but also offers transparency and friendliness.
  • Make your message personal and specific. Use the author’s name in your introduction, and thank the person for the article or content. Use your approved phrases to craft a message that addresses story topics while also engaging readers.
  • Follow the rules on confidential or proprietary information. As with any other work activity, be properly forthcoming.
  • Use your Facebook page to engage “positives.” People who follow your company’s Facebook page are already fans, so you can use that space to link to news about your company and industry, becoming a news source to fans while addressing keywords that matter.