Vacationing in New York recently, I spent a lot of time in the subway. Aside from the allure of impromptu breakdancing demonstrations, the subway is an inexpensive, time-efficient way to cover a city that never suffers from a shortage of compelling destinations.
While waiting for the train, I studied the posters that fill the subway walls. Despite Paul Simon’s promises, I didn’t find any prophetic words. The vicious vandalism that beset the posters of CBS’ “2 Broke Girls,” on the other hand, proved prescient when, upon reading a review of the sit-com, I saw that it had been ripped to shreds.
What really struck me, though, was that despite decades of putting such posters up, only to have them meet similar fates, advertisers refuse to stop. Like their aboveground counterparts, billboards, subway posters cease to be the intellectual property of their creators the moment they go public. What taggers, social critics and compulsive pickers do to them after that is simply out of their hands.
Think of this as a metaphor for social networking. Time and again, we speak with clients who are nervous about dipping their toes into the Facebook pool – or even the Twitter kiddie pool – because of what people will say about them.
In nearly all such cases, we say the same thing. Either people are talking about you or they aren’t. In the case of businesses, the hope would generally be that they are. Regardless of the conversation – or lack thereof – surrounding your brand on social networks, your presence on said networks isn’t going to start or stop those conversations. Social networks simply allow you a voice in the conversation.
In other words, you have no choice about whether people are talking about you online. You only have the choice to listen, engage and be a part of what’s being said.
If somebody says something that you don’t appreciate (or don’t want your customers to hear), you’ve at least got a chance to reach out and convert her or him to your perspective. That’s more of a chance than you’ve got otherwise.
If you occasionally come across a “vandal” who refuses to see things your way, stay classy and trust your customers to see the attack for what it is. Social networks are like customer service windows perched atop a stage. If you listen to and treat each member of the public with respect, they will all feel like they received personalized care, and the rest of the world looking on will take notice.
Don’t worry if you can’t convert everyone to your perspective. I’m sure that the producers of “2 Broke Girls” won’t base the success or failure of their show on the creative license bored subway jockeys took with Kat Dennings’ not-unappealing mug. If all else fails, you can always block an obscene internet troll, which is a feature subway posters have yet to incorporate.