Social media provides a cloak of invisibility, giving users a sense of invincibility that makes many people more likely to say things online they wouldn’t say to others in person. And while a quibble among friends is one thing, this brashness is leeching into the small-business world with some dire consequences.
Anytime you trash-talk your competition, especially online, you could end up doing more harm to your own business than to your competitor. Here’s why—and how to avoid the social media trap.
Bad-Mouthing Your Competition
Matt Michel, CEO of Service Roundtable, an online contractors' alliance, says the practice of bad-mouthing your competitors is a waste of your precious time. “SMBs have enough trouble building brand awareness and differentiation without wasting bandwidth trashing their competitors,” he says.
Another downside? By pointing out the flaws of your competitors, you could inadvertently make consumers wary of your industry as a whole. “You can't raise your company up by tearing a competitor down,” Michel explains.
“Another risk is that it'll make your business unattractive," Michel adds. "Think of dating. People run from first dates who spend too much time trashing former boyfriends or girlfriends. Companies are better served building their brands and giving people reason to buy from them rather than reasons to avoid the competition and category.”
Sheena Tahilramani and Denise Gitsham, co-founders of 7 Second Strategies, a public relations and government affairs firm in Pasadena, California, say there’s really no need for any business to venture into the negative-talk territory. “There's a clear difference between communicating your company’s value proposition in relation to your competitors’ and blatantly pointing out your competitors’ deficiencies in an effort to make your company look more appealing,” Tahilramani says.
Being professional and respectful under all circumstances is what will win you more business, Tahilramani adds. “This is especially true when you [own] a service-based company, as it deters clients who want to work with firms that embrace a culture of professionalism,” she explains.
Managing Your Reputation
In addition to putting your business out there on social media networks, it's more than likely that your employees are also present on multiple social networks, and your customers and prospects will engage in conversation with them about your brand. On social media networks, your staff doesn't represent only themselves but often your business, too, whether in a formal or informal capacity. Many social networks include an individual’s job title and company, even on personal profiles, which invariably ties that person's behavior to your brand. That’s why reputation management is unequivocally important.
But it goes the other way, too: If your loyal staff catches something negative being said about your company, there’s often a knee-jerk reaction to jump to the defense. “I caution pause and highlight it to the person who's responsible for dealing with negative comments,” says Christopher Burgess, CEO of Prevendra Inc., a security, privacy and intelligence firm in Woodinville, Washington. “Far too often, there are nuggets of truth that can benefit the company if those with the beef are engaged directly with respect.”
Burgess says guiding your staff is one of the most important things you can do to prevent getting caught up in a negative social media trap. “A no-nonsense discussion and guide to assist your staff on what the expectations are with respect to discussing your brand," he says, "goes a long way toward keeping what's coming out via your team in concert with what's coming out from the company proper.”
Always Take the High Road
When you’re talking about your own company, the key is to focus on the positives, highlighting the areas in which your products or services excel. If another participant in the conversation brings a competitor’s name into the mix, teach your staff to react only in a positive or neutral manner.
“There are a number of reasons for cordiality,” Burgess says. “First, anger or gauche behavior alienates; secondly, your competitor's team may become your team at a future date—the high road is a good place to be.”
Tahilramani suggests taking it one step further. “Going as far as to collaborate with your competition can do a lot more for your brand’s image than disparaging your rivals,” she points out. “Teaming up for community events, panels, client referrals and causes demonstrates to consumers that your company has nothing to lose by working with competitors—your product or service offering is that much better than the rest.”
Ultimately, it’s about following your moral compass. “The ultimate take-home for brands venturing onto platforms unknown?" Tahilramani asks. "Stick to the Golden Rule, and you can’t lose: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”
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