Openness and transparency is a great asset for a company. Opening up a public forum to receive questions from the public can offer a great opportunity to build a positive vibe around your company.
But think it through before you agree to do it. Stempra tweeted a wonderful example of how not to do it.
Neal’s Yard agreed to take part in The Guardian’s You Ask, They Answer blog. There have been some really positive examples of companies using this blog to engage with their audience; Divine Chocolate were on last week and handled it well.
It didn’t go so well for Neal’s Yard. Straight from the off they received lots of informed questions about homeopathic remedies (no surprise from a paper which has Ben Goldacre as a regular columnist). Neal’s Yard should have been expecting this and had answers ready, even the intro to the blog brought up the subject.
24 hours in and they still haven’t responded to a single question.
So now all we have is a very widely read newspaper website listing criticism after criticism of the company with not a single response.
So what is the lesson here:
You have to anticipate what questions you are likely to be asked before you agree to take part in the forum, if you don’t like the questions you think you may get – don’t open up a forum like this.
You need to be ready to respond and properly engage with the comments you receive. When you do it well you get huge benefits from this kind of approach, when you do it badly the damage to your brand can be immense.
Neal’s Yard may yet respond (I hope they will at least do a statement), but I am imagining they are regretting this exercise and I hope other companies learn the lessons.
Oh dear – they won’t be responding to any of the questions. See this comment from the Guardian Moderator
The Guardian have done a follow up on this, agreeing it was a PR disaster.
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