Why you shouldn’t join every conversation about your brand online


Keep calm and carry on
Image by scottroberts via Flickr

When brands start social media monitoring, the ability to get real-time alerts whenever your brand is mentioned can be enlightening. Your inbox is suddenly filled, almost in real time, with every mention of your brand. The good, the band, and the ugly. The temptation can be to respond to all of these. To counteract every negative comment. To respond to and then spread every positive experience. To answer and resolve every question. This is only natural for people who care about the brands they work for. But the best approach is often not to respond. In fact, in many if not most instances, a brand should not respond to people talking about it online.

The real benefit of social media monitoring for brands is that it allows you to be aware of and listen in to conversations that you might not have known were going on otherwise. People who express their frustration with your product but would never have told you, advocates telling others just how great you are, or people sharing useful feedback and product development ideas. It’s great to see all of these things and the temptation is to respond. But more often than not, the best thing a brand can do is to not respond.

Doing nothing is often the most difficult thing to do. But it is often the right thing to do. If you overheard two people ranting about your brand on a train you would be unlikely to interrupt. If you heard people talking in a cafe about great customer service they’d received from your team you would probably listen, feel proud and let them tell each other how great you are. There is no need to interrupt in these cases. A rant is probably just a rant and there is little you can do to change this. And people being positive are probably doing lots of good for you on their own without you needing to add anything. Whilst things are different in social media - notably that the comments can be seen by a much larger audience and that they are archived and searchable. But often the same rules apply.

If you have nothing to add, don’t say anything, and if you will only inflame a situation then stay out of it

Overall, brands should be careful about engaging online and have a clear process of when to respond, and when not to respond. There are two very clear cases where a brand should always step in:

  1. Where an actual customer service complaint is being expressed - you should step in to respond to this, pointing people in the direction of where they can get support or dealing with this complaint through your existing channels.
  2. Where incorrect things are being said about your brand, products or organisation - you should correct the incorrect messaging that is being spread and answer any questions

In all other instances you should be more circumspect about getting involved. You should have a simple process for reacting and responding online and use this to help guide you. But overall you should do nothing more than you do something. Monitor, report on and learn from everything people say about you online. But don’t feel the need to get involved in every conversation.


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  1. Joanne Jacobs:

    Overall I agree with this post, but I think there’s another couple of contexts where there is a need to engage:

    3. Where participants are asking for statements from a brand: this is subtly different from a customer complaint, as it’s usually in response to a scenario as it is evolving.

    4. Where there has been voluntary labour conducted on behalf of a brand: this to acknowledge contributions where they have been made.

    Both scenarios are less clear cut than the scenarios you outline above but they are also just as crucial. Understanding when to speak and when to remain quiet is partly common sense, but it should also be strategically applied. Perennial display of the slick, professional face of an organisation can actually result in distrust, and a degree of humility and appreciation are crucial to demonstrating the value of customers.

    The key benefit of social media is its very immediacy and direct contact with customers. It is wise to know when to respond to brand commentary, but it is imperative to understand that brand reputation is more than mere control of negative commentary.

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  4. Charlie:

    Great additions Joanne.

  5. Mark Shaw:

    Sorry, but I disagree.. Twitter gives a brand / business a unique opportunity to hear what is going on, what is being said, and so on.. To then say..ok we are listening and then doing nothing I think is absurd. The whole point is that they can now join into the conversation, deal with peoples rants, complaints, and advocates.

    in my view people’s biggest issues is that they feel that most of the time they are never listened to, they are put onto a call centre for hours to vent their anger and so on…

    Twitter now gives businesses the chance to rectify that. To make people feel special and listended to, and then perhaps those gripes are actioned upon. ulitmately trying to establish new brand advocates.

    To just listen and then do very little in my opinion is a massive wasted opportunity.


  6. Tim:

    Don’t know if you guys read TechDirt at all (if you don’t you should - awesome blog!) but Mike often talks about the Streisand effect online. That’s where, in an attempt to suppress bad news/opinions about a person or brand, you end up focussing far more attention on the offending post/tweet/etc.

    It’s fascinating how often you see this happening. It’s basically a daily occurrence. Some blogger, with maybe a circulation of 100/1000 people writes something, no-one notices, it gets picked up by someone working for said person/organisation, DMCA take downs get issued, lawsuits threatened. Before you know it, the story is all over the web and suddenly 10x/20x/1000x more people know about the original story…oops!

    @Mark - I don’t think we’re saying do nothing. It’s more about taking care about how you respond to every single reaction. Obviously if there is a trend in complaints, that is something you have to try and fix as soon as possible, but trying to satisfy every customer is not always possible.

    I’d also say that I personally think Twitter is the wrong tool for trying to fix these issues. Imagine trying to follow the Vodafone twitter account for example if they attempted to reply to every single customer complaint - it would be unreadable through sheer volume. Monitor it, yes, but give your customers other options for when they actually want a conversation - not just want an outlet to express their anger.

    @FreshNetworks - do you see a lot of difficulty with clients wanting to respond to every negative remark, or is this something they take on board fairly quickly?

  7. James Ainsworth:

    I think this is a fascinating area when it comes to ‘Rules of engagement’. Walking away from something can be tricky but certainly have a more pleasing outcome in the long run in some instances.

    Do you make an assesment of influence, is a negative comment from someone with a small network going to trouble you less than someone with a large number of followers? There is a certain behaviour amongst some companies to respond asap to celebrities and for celebrities to expect preferential and immediate treatment via social networks simply because.

    It can be critical to brand development that communication lines on social networks arent just a communication route for absorbing and handling negativity.

  8. Michelle C:

    Agreed. Not every person needs or even wants a response. There should be guidelines in place for who responds and in what situations. I’ve seen many brands using guidelines given the sentiment of an article to decide whether they will respond or not, which is a great system most of the time.

    Pfizer Canada just shared their social media response flow chart recently, actually, if you haven’t seen it yet : http://marketing4health.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/pfizer-canada-shares-its-social-media-response-flow-chart/

    Michelle @Synthesio

  9. Jeffrey Lin:

    We consult for a lot of investing and trading companies, and in this niche a lot of the “audience” who lost money themselves or going through a hard period take their anger out publicly on twitter. It usually has nothing to do with what our clients said or did directly, but people target them as scapegoats. To respond to such comments
    1. fuels the complaints like when you give attention to a kid throwing a tantrum.
    2. makes our clients seem unprofessional sometimes, if the topic of discussion or the person complaining is good at escalating an argument

    And truth is, if a brand is big enough with enough followers (i.e. large enough sample size), it is too hard and dangerous to get involved with every conversation. There’s simply “more of them” than of you.

  10. Nat Bourre:

    Great article. When I interviewed the digital marketing team at Afexa about their Cold-FX Olympics social media campaign, they mentioned that negative comments were often addressed by other community members. http://bit.ly/52z0Gy

  11. Ashley D:

    I couldn’t agree more. Chipotle did this back in December regarding an employee who ran over a cat and posted a comment about it on Facebook. Chipotle continued to make posts about it, and ultimately ended up causing more of a controversy than if they had just ignored it.

    Not to shamelessly plug my blog, but I was so shocked by how they handled it, a wrote a post called “How Not to Handle a Social Media PR Nightmare (Thanks Chipotle).” Granted social media is in it’s infancy, it was a good case study in what not to do.

  12. Steve Bridger:

    Great post, Matt.

    Joanne makes a very valid point, too: “where there has been voluntary labour conducted on behalf of a brand… acknowledge contributions where they have been made.”

    This is especially important for charities (which is my ‘playing field’), where the ‘acknowledgement’ may be a simple retweet to get that balance between ‘blowing your own trumpet’ and amplifying the voice of others.

    Definitely makes sense to be “circumspect”, as you say Matt - and not to unduly amplify (that word again) one intervention online… way beyond what you would do in other circumstances. Although one further caveat would be whether you could identify the individual as an ‘influencer’.

    Always learning.

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  14. Aurelius Tjin:

    What is more important is…every reaction should be based on whether the action will further the company’s best interest

  15. erik bratt:

    Customer 2.0 doesn’t want to interrupted by brands all the time — only when they need help, or are looking for something. It’s important to set up your keywords and phrases to properly target these best engagement opportunities. Thanks for bringing this up.


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