PR: The “P” Should Also Be For “Polite”

posted by

If there’s one thing that drives me nuts when I’m out and about in the city, it’s when someone fails to thank me for holding the door open, pointing them in the right direction, or allowing them to pass first on a crowded, narrow sidewalk. Personal grievances aside, having bad manners is also bad for business. Generation Y – the Millennials – are all too often cited as the culprits for rudeness at work, but the unfortunate truth is that corporate suits of all ages are at fault. As PR people, we are often the eyes, ears, and mouths of our companies and clients. Here’s how being polite comes across to your audience, and why it should matter to you.

Answering in a timely fashion = caring about potential clients’ needs

We’re all busy. It’s become the standard to respond to emails whenever we “get around to it”, and most of us only check our voice-mails to clear that annoying icon from our phones. If an email finds its way into your inbox, respond after reading it (whenever possible). It doesn’t matter if it’s a potential client requesting services you don’t offer, or a college student hoping to get advice – acknowledging their inquiry will signal to them that there truly is a real person on the other end of the screen. Even if their inquiry is unrelated to something you or your company handles, send a note. Think about the conversation that will stem from your one, polite action. Instead of, “Yeah, I contacted XYZ Company but they never called me back. I’ll check in with those other guys tomorrow,” it would be, “Yeah, XYZ Company wasn’t able to help, but they sent me this really nice email with the name of someone who could.” You’ve formed a relationship with someone by being polite, and when asked about it, they’ll have a positive feeling about you or your company. And don’t be a flake! If you tell someone you need time to form a more thorough response, put it on your calendar and make sure you follow through.

Thanking your audience for broadcasting your message = taking the time to notice their efforts

I think it’s easy to forget in a sea of social that people aren’t typically required to share something they find interesting – they just do. It’s true, the digital culture reinforces this behavior, but at the end of the day it’s a voluntary move. Most of us have HootSuite or TweetDeck open, and have our social networks synced with our shiny smartphones, so it’d be hard to pretend like we don’t notice when someone clicks the “Like” button. If you get a favorable mention, say thank you. Appreciate your audience and their engagement, and they’ll be more likely to do it next time. Back when I thought I’d be a psych major, there was a lot of talk about how positive reinforcement creates behavior patterns. I know from personal experience that after thanking a Twitter user who shared an article I’d written, I gained a new follower, and a new connection.

Responding diplomatically to unfavorable comments = confidently and respectfully holding your ground

Sometimes, the social media sphere can get downright ugly. Any brand that’s been grilled in the spotlight has seen a slew of misinformation disseminate among online followers. It’s not uncommon for that anger or displeasure – whether it’s warranted or not – to spill into a comment, or mention. Instead of getting fired up and defensively trying to combat negative opinions, acknowledge them head-on, but with tact. I remember after Kenneth Cole’s famous #Cairo tweet, the brand immediately hid the brand page’s Facebook from view, and barely responded to the outcry. Was it effective? It ended up making the brand look more guilty, and clueless to boot. There are plenty of approaches you can take that still help salvage relationships with your audience:

  • For someone who had a bad experience: Apologize that things went wrong. Offer to comp them in some way, if you can. If not, ask them to give you detailed feedback that you plan on using to better future clients’ experiences.
  • For someone who’s responding to a mishap, a la Kenneth Cole: Though most brands won’t agree, more people will respect you if you can admit you made a mistake. If you’re allowed, admit fault and emphasize that you’re working to make it right. People still might not like you, but they can respect honesty.
  • For someone simply stating misinformation: Kindly correct them, and begin your response by thanking them for finding you on your blog/Twitter/Facebook/wherever they engaged you. Getting nasty will just reflect poorly on you, so intelligently correct them.

My parents always told me that “a little please and thank you goes a long way.” In today’s cut-throat world, it couldn’t be more true. What could be better PR than a reputation for being polite, friendly, and responsive? Isn’t that a company’s dream? Even edgier companies can throw in a little “thank you” here and there in between witty remarks. The bottom line: try it. You’ll like it. And of course, thanks for reading!

Have something to say about this post? Tweet us your responses @Zamolution.

Copyright 2011 Zamolution, LLC. All Rights Reserved.