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Ask Haley: Playing Defense on Social Networks

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Q: David, how can staffing firms protect themselves from false accusations and negative information on social networks?

A: Three weeks ago, I was interviewed by Julie McCoy from Staffing Industry Analysts about social media.  We spent a long time discussing how staffing firms can protect themselves from the dangers of disgruntled clients, competitors and temporary employees and the misinformation they could post.
And then a funny thing happened–this situation happened to us. Another firm did not like an article I wrote because they thought it was about them (actually, it wasn’t – it was a rant against a firm in California that was using misinformation and outright lies as fear tactics to sell their SEO services).  This other firm decided to reprint my article on their website with some very derogatory comments about our services and misinterpretation of my message (for the record, my rant was against one-dimensional marketing and sales people who lie, not against the value of SEO and social networking).
Anyway, this brought me back to Julie’s question.  What can a staffing firm do when this happens to them?  At Haley Marketing, we recommend two strategies.

1) Play Offense.  Before anything negative appears on the Internet (or to combat what’s already out there), create opportunities for positive information to be posted about your firm while also encouraging people with complaints to submit them directly to you. 

Here are a few ideas:

  • If you have a blog, encourage your temporary associates and clients to contribute success stories and testimonials.  And if they don’t have time, consider writing a blog post for  them and gather their feedback and approval before posting. 
  • Encourage your temporary associates (those who are really happy) to share their experience on sites like Yelp.com.  
  • Set up a site specifically to allow people to vent their service frustrations.  You can use a service like GetSatisfaction.com or create an area on your website for feedback. 
  • Join social networks that focus on the types of clients and  candidates you serve, and then become a frequent contributor of ideas and advice. For example, search groups on LinkedIn and Facebook to find your local chamber of commerce, local SHRM chapter, and groups for specific types of professionals. Position yourself as an expert and a resource. 
  • Create a Facebook page for your firm and encourage your candidates to become fans. 
  • Use free press release distribution sites to submit newsworthy stories that illustrate the successes you are having with local  job seekers and employers. 
  • Become a social media listener.  Set up a Google alert to inform you whenever new information is posted about your firm.  Use a service like Trackur (http://www.trackur.com/) to monitor a wide range of social media. 
  • And most importantly, avoid service problems up front by doing your best to set realistic expectations with clients and candidates.  It’s an old truism that you are best served by “under promising and over-delivering.”  If you can’t fill a job order, be honest about it.  If you interview a candidate that you know you’ll never place,   give them candid feedback and suggestions for improvement.  We worked with one staffing firm several years ago that would go so far as to explain to under qualified candidates why the firm could not represent them and then give the candidates a list of other staffing firms that could.

2) Play Defense.  When you’re in the staffing business, you will have some unhappy clients and candidates.  You can’t be perfect, and even more so, you can’t please every person.  So when something negative gets out on the Internet, you have to know how to react. 

Here are a few strategies:

  • Do nothing.  Sometimes the most intelligent approach is to ignore the complaint.  If the complainer is clearly overstating problems, ranting or using vile language, ignore it.  If you’ve done your job playing offense, these complainers will look like the nut cases. 
  • Deal with the person directly. If someone’s complaint is legitimate or at least based in reality, you want to address the situation personally and offline first. Call them. Email them. Probe to find out what was wrong, what you can do to improve, and come to an agreement about next steps.  Then you can announce the changes you made via social media.  Ford Motor Company recently had this exact experience.  Their legal department went aggressively after one of their fans for selling unlicensed products.  Before the “Goliath beats up David” story ever reached the press, Ford used social media to resolve the problem–and it took less than 24 hours! Here’s the story: http://leftthebox.com/archive/how-scott-monty-stopped-a-ford-pr-disaster/ 
  • Admit to your mistakes. If you made a legitimate mistake with your service, fess up to it, publicly. Then also state what you learned and the changes you made to resolve the problem.  You can get the word out via your company blog, your Facebook page, and directly to people via email and services like Twitter.  Most people understand that businesses make mistakes. It’s how you deal with them that counts.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  It’s not an exhaustive list of everything you can do to play offense and defense, but it should be plenty to get you going.


David Searns

P.S.  Wonder how we dealt with our issue? 

We took the high road. Rather than join the battle of mud slinging, we focused on what we do best–sharing ideas and information.  We then leveraged the power of social media to help spread the word, and the results have been beyond amazing–336 responses in less than one week!

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