This is “The Third Step: Manage—Engaging In and Leading the Conversation”, section 11.4 from the book Online Marketing Essentials (v. 1.0). For details on it (including licensing), click here.

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11.4 The Third Step: Manage—Engaging In and Leading the Conversation

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn how to engage in and lead conversation.
  2. Learn why it is important to engage in and lead conversation.

The best way to show that you are listening is by engaging. Online, there are many channels available to companies to respond to the conversation and to become an active participant in it.

What if everything being said is nice?

A fantastic position to be in is that every possible mention that includes your company, its employees, and products is overwhelmingly positive. Well done. However, that does not mean that there is nothing to do. Consumers want to know that a company is listening; it needs to respond. Positive comments should be acknowledged.

All of these mentions can also indicate new avenues for marketing and growth.

What If Everything Being Said Is Neutral?

If everything being said is neutral, then it sounds like the company is very boring. As Seth Godin puts it, “safe is risky.”Seth Godin, “Safe Is Risky,” Seth Godin’s Blog, October 22, 2004, (accessed June 20, 2010). If a company is playing it so safe that no one can be bothered to either send praise or criticism its way, it’s in danger of being forgotten. The next step is no one talking about the company at all.

What If Negative Things Are Being Said?

Negative statements should be seen as an opportunity for growth. Negative statements can be complaints or criticisms, and both should be dealt with.

Complaints are from stakeholders who have had dealings with a company. By complaining, a customer is giving the company the opportunity to make things right and is probably indicating where the company can improve. Usually, the skilled customer service department of a company should deal with complaints.

If a complaint is online, the resolution should be there as well, although you can try to have it taken offline first. Even though the customer service will likely take place either over e-mail or by phone, posting a comment in a blog post, for example, will show the community that the company both listens and responds.

Criticism need not necessarily come from customers, but it is important to be aware of it. If a criticism includes false information, it should be corrected. And if the criticism is true, then it should be dealt with as such.


Responding involves recognizing that consumers dictate the channels of communication and that a company needs to go to the consumer, not the other way around.

In South Africa, “vodacom3G” is the name of a Vodacom representative who monitors the forum and resolves complaints and queries and offers assistance. Instead of directing customers to an FAQ (frequently asked question) section on a Vodacom site, Vodacom has followed their consumers to the channel that the consumers prefer.


Visit to see how Vodacom is using the forum to interact with customers.

Not only does Vodacom resolve questions on the forum, but the company also uses it to provide key information that consumers want. If you are responding to a blog post, find the writer’s contact details on the blog and e-mail her directly. As a last resort, use the comments to make contact with the blogger.

When responding, be transparent and honest. Remember that e-mails can be reproduced on blogs. At all times, remember that you are engaged in conversation, not dictation.


In Chapter 8 "Social Media" and Chapter 13 "Web Site Development and Design", there are guidelines for companies to lead the conversation using the tools of social media and Web public relations (WebPR). Influencing and leading the conversation can also have the consequence of there being more results that are led by your company in the SERPs.

Companies can also be proactive by purchasing negative name domains, such as http://, to prevent angry customers from buying them and having them hit the SERPs.

Lastly, take a look at negative brand-name searches on major search engines and consider PPC (pay-per-click) advertising to offer the company’s point of view.

Key Takeaways

  • The best way to show that you are listening is by responding.
  • If everything that’s said is nice, marketers should still find ways to show they are listening by acknowledging positive comments.
  • If what is said is neutral, the company is in danger of being forgotten.
  • If what is said is negative, the company needs to see this as an opportunity for growth. Try to resolve things online. The customer service department should handle this.
  • Be transparent when responding.
  • WebPR works hand in hand with ORM. ORM tools are used to listen, and WebPR helps a company to respond and engage.


  1. When dealing with complaints or criticism, why should a company try to take them offline first?
  2. How do you think a company can encourage customers to use established customer-service channels as opposed to social media, and what are the benefits of doing so?
  3. Vodacom has a representative on the forum Visit the forum and consider the style the representative, “vodacom3G,” uses when posting. Does it sound like a corporation or like an individual? What is the effect of the style that the poster uses?
  4. Think of an example of a negative brand-name search, and what a PPC (paid-per-click) ad that offers the company’s point of view may look like.