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Having set up his Twitter account a couple of weeks ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has enlisted the help of 200 staff to man his account. With his reputation for outspoken rants and rambling speeches, what can we learn from @chavezcandanga about reputation management?
The somewhat eccentric leader of Venezuela recently took his political monologues to the pages of Twitter. Whilst more famed for his epic national addresses, one of which lasted 8 hours, Hugo Chavez is confined to a mere 140 characters to spread his political message online.
With his popularity dwindling, Chavez has targeted social media as a way of challenging criticism and develop his public persona [see: Hugo Chávez embraces Twitter to fight online ‘conspiracy’ | The Guardian]. Whilst he has been active in encouraging his followers to actively engage through Facebook and Twitter, this is his first foray into personal online propaganda. So what can you learn from Venezuela’s outspoken socialist president?
The Internet offers a free forum for voicing opinions. Whether in business or politics, everybody is equally open to praise and attack. As a major figurehead, Chavez is subject to constant scrutiny. Therefore it makes some sense to have a mouthpiece through which to respond.
The same is true for companies and corporations of all sizes. With customer service being just as important as engaging the electorate, it is important that you are able to deal with questions whilst responding to pleased and disenfranchised consumers quickly.
Lesson 1: Engage Your Critics and Customers Positively
Without having a presence where consumers congregate, you could miss an opportunity to encourage further business and develop new relationships. You could also leave yourself entirely open to criticism and unable to appease those who may be dissatisfied.
This has worked extremely well for a number of major brands including Debenhams, Starbucks and Dell. Hugo Chavez obviously has quite a tougher job than most, dealing with an entire nation of Twitter users as well as external critics. Needless to say, this is why he has hired a team of 200 full-time staff to manage the deluge of messages he receives [see: Hugo Chavez Hires 200 People to Manage His Twitter Account | Mashable].
This level of account management is out of the reach of most businesses and many would see it as a touch heavy-handed. That said, any person might struggle to deal with 50,000 messages Chavez has reportedly received so far.
Lesson 2: Manage Your Account(s) Effectively
It’s no good having a Twitter account that you occasionally update with uninformative chatter; not if you’re a business (or a President) at least. If you are going to get the most out of your social networking experience, you need to have the resources to deal with the level of interest you attract.
For a small business this might just mean having someone within your team that regularly keeps tabs on the account. You might also use a service like Tweetdeck to highlight mentions you’ve received from other Twitter users. This will act as a basic management tool, keeping you up to date with the with the tweeting masses.
Larger businesses might either choose to employ a full-time team or outsource management to a social media agency. This will allow them to maximise their presence without risking any damage to the brand. There aren’t any guarantees, but by allowing experienced marketers take over your account, you stand a far better chance of reaching out to the right people.
Lesson 3: Engage, Don’t Dictate
Those who are familiar with Hugo Chavez will know that he doesn’t pull any punches. Diplomacy often takes a side seat to rhetoric and vitriol, as the United States Government and King Juan Carlos of Spain will no doubt testify [see: Spanish King tells Hugo Chavez to ‘shut up’ | The Telegraph]. If you are going to manage your reputation online through SEO or social media, you have to be prepared to be diplomatic. Respond with conversation or consolation, not closed statements.
Social media is about joining in with the wider conversation. The more positive your engagement, the more you should get from it. If you try to ignore or bury negativity, it could come back to haunt you.
Lesson 4: Tweets Can Last Forever
Frustration has lead many a person to write something they later regret on Twitter. Whilst you can delete any offending tweet, that may not be the end of your troubles.
President Chavez hasn’t yet committed a major faux pas on his account; however, plenty of others have. The more followers you have, the greater the risk that your regrettable tweet will be picked up. If that then gets distributed through a blog or as a retweet, it can then be shared forevermore.
Habitat famously fell foul of this when they infamously used special hashtags designed to report and spread news on the Iranian crisis to promote their wares [see: News of Michael Jackson’s Death Causes Online Meltdown]. Not clever. But this is far from being an isolated example. Chavez and your business would do well to avoid any outbursts or displays of Twittering ignorance.
Lesson 5: Respond Responsibly
Criticism is an unfortunate bi-product of doing business publicly. When you are a controversial, iron-willed President it is perhaps more regular than the average small e-commerce store; however, the way in which you respond is no less important.
Chavez, as we have already mentioned, is prone to the odd outburst in retaliation to his detractors. Indeed his primary purpose for having an account is to deal with them directly and offer counter-arguments. But if you are looking to manage your reputation using social media, you can’t then go and get upset with a few dissenting voices.
A simple message like “We’re sorry you had a bad experience, if you would like to discuss this further please…” can diffuse a situation. If you can then follow up the complaint, see what the issue was and resolve it if possible, you can come out of it glowing. Responding with petulance or simply ignoring it will do nothing to help your situation.
So whilst you might be nothing like the socialist overlord of Venezuela, there is plenty we can learn from him when it comes to using Twitter. It is an extremely useful way of communicating with the wider world. With growing membership and interaction, making sure you are in on the conversation could help boost your online efforts.
Don’t get too carried away and hire 200 minions to do your bidding, but getting some outside help can make sure that you don’t fall foul of any potential pitfalls. As always though, if you have used Twitter to manage your reputation or expand your business, please pass on your views below.
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