Jump As Quickly At Opportunities As You Do To Conclusions March 23, 2009

Written by: Melissa Taylor
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Last week I watched parts of Obama’s town hall meeting in Orange County, CA (by the way, a friend’s Facebook status at the time was: ”I’m currently looking at Air Force One”, how killer is that?).

There was a moment during the meeting when Obama addressed the AIG bonus debacle and said the words, “Listen, I’ll take responsibility; I’m the president” to which the room erupted into… applause?

That’s right. Applause. Why? It’s not that people are excited about the fact that a bunch of fat cats are getting huge bonuses – that is for certain. No one is sitting there going, “Great job, Obama. You did amazing work on this one. We love how much of our money your administration squanders on rich people that screwed us in the first place.” No. People are PISSED. And they should be. So what to do?

Deny deny deny? Have your press secretary give non-answers at an impersonal podium? No. The only possible salve for this kind of unrestrained outrage is to go directly to the people, speak directly to the people, and take responsibility. This country is so weary of years of excuses, double speak and hypocrisy. We want honesty, authenticity and above all for someone to step up and say, “Hey, this isn’t right. I might have screwed up here. I take responsibility, and I’m taking steps to make it better.” And that is exactly what Obama did.

If you can do that and you can mean it and you can work toward solutions, you can win back the hearts and minds of a whole lot of people. Perfection is not expected. Accountability and frank communication, however, seem non-negotiable. He could have stayed quiet. He could have stayed in DC and dealt with pushing his policies forward, working within the bubble where the work gets done and decisions get made.

But he didn’t. He chose to go to the people. Because it is important to speak to your people.

This doesn’t just go for our president. This extends to every business, every brand, every website, every entity that is providing a service or value to consumers. More than fifty-five percent of consumers have stated that they want brands to interact with them. Your consumers would like a quick chat, won’t you sit down?

I stumbled upon this blog post about many companies being deathly afraid of negative blog coverage. As I spend the majority of time speaking to clients, I can vouch that this fear is very real. Negativity freaks people out. Look, no one likes to be publicly lambasted, particularly not profit-seeking entities that have a lot to lose.

I get it. No one wants their ugly warts out there for everyone to see. But unless you are an absolutely flawless business that never ever makes any mistakes, someone is going to call you out. Actually, even if you are flawless, someone will call you out anyway – they will make it up if they have to.

The truth of the matter is, trying to squash negative feedback, or pretending it doesn’t exist or (god forbid) litigating (!!) is not only not the answer, it is the waste of a fantastic opportunity to engage with your consumers. Social Media is giving us a gift – the gift of answering consumers directly and publicly. Without having to call town meetings.

Those that speak negatively about you are simply inviting you to get in the sandbox and play.

So play. Learn the rules of the game please… but play.

This is the opportunity to gain a new customer, win an old one back, or at the very least show the rest of the people watching that your brand hears, takes responsibility and cares. It can’t be overstated how important that is to the health of the brand-consumer relationship and how far that goes in generating positive word-of-mouth.

Jump in. It’s not that scary. It’s not like it’s $165 million of taxpayers’ hard earned dollars going to the undeserving. If he can do it, so can you.

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