Sunday, November 30, 2008

One to One is One to Many

I spend a lot of time these days in my new role of directing our new media emailing angry fans. It takes up a lot of time and emotional energy, but over the course of the past three months I’ve become convinced it is crucial to the athletic department.

More than one person has asked why in the world do you “waste” your time with “those people.” It is an outgrowth of my interaction with “those people” who also spend their days and nights on message boards.

Critics think I’m spending too much time doing “retail” work; that our time is best served reaching larger audiences.

Respectfully, I’ll counter that I am doing “wholesale” because today’s one-to-one work in reality is one-to-many.

This is one of the great keys to turning your messaging from a speech into a conversation. Thanks to the growing strength of word of mouth, reaching out to solve the problems of individual fans pays huge dividends.

I am as guilty as anyone of thinking I am talking to a computer when I get upset at a retailer or other supplier. Fans will say some of the most violent, demanding things when they think that they are A) anonymous or B) not talking to humans. They are quite surprised that an assistant athletic director is taking the time to respond.

There are some important rules to this work:

First, you need to respond quickly. Complaint anger can grow exponentially over time.

Second, listen. Inside that rant is a problem, one that you probably need to fix.

Third, apologize and offer solutions. Outside of coaching issues, they don’t take the time to go off on you if nothing wasn’t wrong.

Fourth, acknowledge their opinions. No matter how bad, it is their opinion. It’s OK to have that opinion, but perhaps the opinion is not well informed. Does this person have all the facts?

Fifth, be transparent. With the exception of private schools and certain team/academic/FERPA issues, it does you no good to act like what you know cannot be shared. Fans can be forgiving, but only when you are respectful of them and are willing to bring them in.

Last of all, sometimes you can’t solve their problems. This becomes an agree to disagree situation, but you ignore their feelings at your own risk.

From personal experience, taking the time to win over an upset fan who has given up on the streaming plan at the school, or is upset about an error on the website, pays dividends. Fans want to be loyal. Even more so, they want to be connected. Hold them at arm’s length at your own peril. Sooner or later, you will need them to step up for the program. If you have ignored them, they will not rally to your cause.

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