‘Crisis’ is a dirty word - how Femfresh could have handled their social media backlash


In the last few days you might have seen the word vagina bandied about a fair bit online, and not just in the murkier corners of the internet.

In the US, Representative Lisa Brown was banned from the House, ostensibly for ‘permissive’ language, after using the word ‘vagina’ in front of the Michigan legislature in a debate about abortion.

Hot on the heels of this came the Femfresh debacle. Femfresh is a ‘feminine hygiene’ brand which has a new marketing campaign. Its ‘expert care for down there’ campaign has been broadcast in traditional one-way media: radio and out-of-home advertising.

However when Femfresh brought it into social media – a conversational media – things took a different turn. Consumers could respond to the campaign, and respond they did.

Femfresh became the target for an unrelenting stream of criticism on Facebook for its ‘go woohoo for your frou-frou’ campaign that also seemed to suggest that vagina is an unacceptable word.

Whether or not it was infantilising women, or trying to break taboos is a moot point. Femfresh had a crisis on its hands.

Here’s three things Femfresh could have done:

1. Respond to each comment to explain and wait for it to die down.

Probable outcome: a long time-intensive process, likely to further inflame critics. With no firm closure to the incident it would have prolonged the resolution of the crisis. The issue could possibly just rumble on, ready to blow up again in the future.

2. Make a simple, human statement outlining the facts of the matter, taking appropriate responsibility, explaining what the outcome or change would be of this incident and saying sorry. Then push the story down their Facebook Timeline with positive stories and status updates.

Probable outcome: it would have inflamed some critics, but assertively dealt with the issue. Again fairly prolonged resolution but at least putting a credible position from which to recover.

3. Use it as a catalyst for business transformation. Use that rare opportunity of public scrutiny and turn the negative passion into positive. Take the backlash on the chin, engage directly with the critics and influencers, and as a result of their feedback, change the campaign or even the company. Wholefoods turned from crisis to case study in just this way.

Probable outcome: it would have fuelled more debate, but Femfresh would have a chance to turn some of its detractors into advocates. It would be a resource investment. But it could take that valuable feedback from its customers, change its marketing, improve its products and build a better business.

We’re yet to see what the long term impact of the Femfresh backlash will be. Unfortunately the company chose to take its Facebook page down – which is a missed opportunity.

The moral of this story has to be if you court consumer engagement, be prepared for what you get. And perhaps further, that if customers care enough to respond to you, recognise that for the gift it is: be grateful and use that feedback to build a better company.

Image credit: debaird on Flickr

Social Media Beginners: Lesson 4 - Principles of engaging people online


It’s been a while since the last installment, so apologies for that. This time we’re going to look at a few principles for engaging people online.

  1. Understand who you want to engage. The first stage is critical - know who you want to engage. This may be a certain type of consumer, your most loyal customers or maybe people you are targeting in the future. Do some work to understand these people, what makes them tick and what inspires them. What do they do online at the moment and where do they hang out? Get a real and full understanding of the people you want to engage so that you know how to approach them, what content and discussions are relevant to them, and where to find them.
  2. Explore what’s in it for them. You’re engaging people and they’re engaging with you - it’s a two-way process. To make sure that you get the most out of people you need to make sure there is something in it for them. They may not be as enthusiastic to learn about your latest product as you think (or maybe just hope) they should be. Whatever you’re engaging them with, and however you’re doing it, make sure there really is something in it for them.
  3. Create a space people feel comfortable in. Think of hosting a party or inviting friend over for a chat. You know that the party wouldn’t be good if the venue and atmosphere wasn’t right; or that the chat would be abrupt if the chairs were uncomfortable. Online it’s critical that you create a space that people feel comfortable in. If you are to truly engage with them you need to make sure you create a space they want to visit and then want to return to. Work on the previous two stages to get this right.
  4. Be open and honest in the way you engage. Honesty is critical online. You need people to trust you and to do this in the online space it’s best to be clear and frank about who you are and what you’re doing. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not and don’t pretend you’re looking to do something you’re not. People will trust you more if you’re honest with them, and if you want this engagement to be most successful then you want them to be honest back.
  5. Reward participation. Don’t reward with payment or free products, but reward by letting people know you care. They want to engage with you and will be even more motivated if you show them how this engagement is impacting you. Feedback to them any changes you make on the back of this engagement, let them inside the firm and make them a real part of the organisation. People want to help and want to feel a stronger link to a brand they love and so make the most of these feelings and use them to your advantage.

Whether you are engaging people through blogs, email newsletters, their social networks or your own online communities, these principles are critical. The online space is different to traditional means of engaging with or marketing too customers and so it’s critical that you take a new approach. Honesty really is the best policy.

Next time we’ll be looking at how you can make use of video and photos online as part of a social media strategy.

Social Media Beginners: Lesson 3 - User generated content


When people talk about new media, social media or Web 2.0, there is often one thing in common: user generated content (UGC). This is really what the essence growth of Web 2.0 is. Web sites are crammed full of videos, photos, reviews and articles written by users. This reflects a shift not only in the amount of time people are spending online (more), but also a change in the reason for going online. People no longer go just to read and find a piece of information; they go to contribute information, share ideas and interact with other users. Wikipedia has over seven million articles in 200 languages - all user generated content. YouTube has over 150,000 new videos uploaded every day. People want to contribute to the debate and we need to give them the opportunity to do this.

The internet has changed from being about individual users interacting with websites, to individual users interacting with each other through websites.

This change is massive and the opportunities it opens up for you are equally large. For brands it’s about getting rid of traditional marketing approaches and engaging customers in what you are doing - involve them and use the content and ideas they generate to help you.

One simple but effective way to start use UGC in your business is to get customers to rate products on your site and write reviews. Many firms are worried about this, but they really shouldn’t be. Businesses like Amazon have been using customer reviews on their main site for years, others like Expedia have a customer reviews site that sits separate to the ecommerce site (TripAdvisor in their case).

To get the use of UGC in this way right, there are a few simple rules to follow:

  1. Be clear why people are reviewing - they should be doing it so that they can let other people know what they think about the product rather than it just being feedback to you on your brand.
  2. Allow people just to give a rating and use a five point scale. People tend to be very positive, in fact the average score given to products when rated online is 4.3 out of five!
  3. Allow people to post reviews in real-time. You can moderate them afterwards and letting them see that their post is live will be the reward they need for taking the time to write something.
  4. Don’t fake reviews. Not only is this going to become illegal, there is also no need. I’ve heard of companies that fake positive reviews, and ones that fake negative reviews. There’s no need to do either, so don’t.

Pretty soon your reviews will become an integral part of your site. It stops being somewhere customers go to perform a transaction and starts being somewhere they go to interact. They spend more time on the site and research suggests will spend more money with you. Products with reviews generate a much higher conversion rate than those without. Now there’s a real benefit of UGC!

Next time we’ll build on this and look at a range of ways you can start to engage customers online.

What happens when you disappoint your devoted customers?


Your devoted customers are your most active advocates. Positive experiences in the past have taught them to have high expectations of you - they expect a great experience and they’re devoted to you because they get what they expect. But just as these customers are you most active advocates, they can also be the easiest to disappoint and can quickly turn into detractors.

I like the chart that Andy Hanselman uses to describe this scenario as I think it quite simply helps you to categorise your customers.

Customer 2×2

Your devoted customers have high expectations and could need just a single poor experience to turn them from ‘devoted’ to ‘disappointed’. I had a similar experience last night. I’ve written before that for air travel I’m a fan of Virgin Atlantic (see post here). I’ve enjoyed their service a number of times and would have always had good experiences. My expectations are high. I’m a devoted customer. And this is true - I genuinely would choose them above other carriers on the same route and always recommend them to others.

Sadly last night I had a poor experience. Nothing too major just a collection of things (my inflight entertainment didn’t work and none of the cabin crew helping to fix it, poor food and not the drinks service I was hoping for…). None of these things in and of themselves is significant. But together they made my experience poor. And as I sat on the plane last night, I felt disappointed. My expectations were high but my experience poor.

So what can companies like Virgin Atlantic do when their devoted customers are disappointed? Well the key is to listen to them and show that they are listening. These customers still want to be positive advocates about the brand, but they need their confidence in the brand to return. This is where a mechanism to engage them constantly and to feedback to them becomes important (both when their experiences are good and bad). Things go wrong and people have bad experiences from time to time - but brands need to make sure they act quickly when they do.

Social Media Beginners: Lesson 2 - Know your blogs from your networks


The biggest question that I hear from people who are new to the use of social media is what the tools are that they can use and when should they use them. Today’s lesson starts to look at these and in particular will look at four types of tool, which get increasingly more complex: blogs, forums, social networks and online communities.


A blog is a website that has regularly updated commentary - either on an individual’s life, a business, a sector or any subject. Many people think that it is just an online diary, but really it can be much more than that. Blogs are ways for one person or one team of person to regularly develop and communicate their opinions. They can connect with other blogs to start to form an exchange and to develop ideas with others.

For businesses, blogs can be a great way to get your message out. They are updated more often than websites typically are and can be thought of as a great alternative to the traditional newsletter mail out. Blogs, however, are about ongoing communication - so you need to update very regularly; they’re about collaboration - so it’s not just pushing a marketing message; and they’re personal - not corporate speak.

For an amusing take on blogs from the CommonCraft Show watch the video below.


Forums are a way for lots of people to discuss and contribute to an idea. If a blog is very much about the author (or authors), then a forum is about the ideas. Typically organised into topics (or threads) people post suggestions, answers or contributions which others can respond to or add to.

Forums are particularly good for groups of people with shared interests. HR professionals, doctors or entrepreneurs in a particular region would make great candidates for forums. Brands can use them to engage their customer base - with forums about their product, services or support functions. You might even think of replacing your customer service team with a moderated forum that answers queries. The key here is ‘moderated’ - too many forums have no activity on them, they need to be pertinent and well managed to survive.

Social Networks

Social networks are ways of connecting with people you know (and people they know) online - think Facebook, MySpace or Linkedin. They are about individuals, we say that they are about a ‘me’. It’s where you go to share things about your life with friends and to find things out about them: photos, stories, what you’re doing right now. You share all of these things with people through your profile.

For businesses, social networks are particularly useful if you want to track what a particular customer segment is saying and doing. Find out where they hang out online and then check in to see what they discuss and talk about. You might even find them discussing your brand. Of course, because social networks are based on individuals, it can be difficult to speak to engage people directly here without it seeming too much like you are forcing yourself and your brand on them, which is not the image you want to give.

Online communities

If social networks are about a ‘me’, then online communities are about an ‘us’. These are built around issues, themes, or even brands, and are about the common purpose of the community rather than an individual member. They’re great ways to engage customers or stakeholders and some big brands use them a lot. They can help with innovation and creating new ideas; with testing ideas and concepts or getting insight into what customers thing; and they really build advocacy and word of mouth.

Like forums, the success of an online community comes down to good management and moderation and a well planned set of activities or topics to discuss. You need a reason for people to take part - what do they get out of joining. This is where they differ from social networks, but also where they are more powerful. Social networks attract people because they want to meet friends and share information about them. Online communities are about sharing information for others.

And are they successful? Well you only have to look at Tripadvisor - and online community for travel and hotel recommendations. The site is owned by Expedia and is now the biggest source of traffic to their e-commerce site, and sees the highest conversions to sales. Impressive stuff.

We’ll be back next week with a look at User Generated Content (UGC).