Yesterday I got called to jury duty, and the experience reinforced my belief that interacting with social media is a lot like presenting arguments to a jury. Social media is changing the marketing industry, customers tend to trust each other and not the sales and marketing messages of the past. After much research, training and certification programs I have learned a lot and I became the Social Media instructor for the Missouri State Small Business Technology and Development Center.
In my presentations I talk about how companies need to get found online through the content they publish about themselves and their solutions. Interacting with review sites works the same way; the review and your response is content that people use to make decisions. People get very confused by review sites and I have been using the analogy of the jury system.
In our legal system there is a reasonable person standard that must be met when a jury is instructed to make a judgment. When people read reviews that same sort of reasonable person standard exists. People size up the reviewer and the company based on their perceptions about the quality of the comments and the response. People read the interaction and they decide whether the reviewer sounds like someone was angry and overreacted, or they may seem to have a grudge, or they may sound like a customer who was legitimately wronged. The point is that viewers apply a reasonable person standard to the actions of both the reviewer and the company response. The key is to respond in a way that acknowledges the suffering of the customer, uncovers the source of the problem, and explains how the system will change to avoid that problem in the future. If you do this you will often turn problems into opportunities.
Yesterday I saw the voir dire process in action and it was surprising. All the jurors are asked questions by the Judge and both sets of attorneys about individual attitudes and beliefs. It was an open and transparent process where we all heard the questions and each others answers. Some folks were conservative; some were liberal, and most just wanted to be out of there. I saw how people began to agree with some and disagree with others. You could see alliances forming, but you also heard basic values expressed; fairness, concern, and empathy for both parties. It was amazing how quickly we learned about each other and started to connect. It is uncomfortable to share your views, but it was important that both parties in the case felt comfortable with the people whose judgment would ultimately decide the case. In fact it is that transparency that helps all the litigants feel more confident in the verdict and lessens the number of appeals later.
Same thing happens in our strategic planning process. By being transparent and taking the time to involve all the employees and our customers in planning, we all feel more confident in the direction we are taking. Getting buy-in among a group is really hard, and requires transparency, negotiating and compromise – but the effect is more trust, better relationships, sales growth and a much more realistic and attainable vision for the future.