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Releasing promotional products can be a great way to capture attention for a brand, either for general advertising or for special events, sales or product releases. However, promotional products can also come with unexpected side effects, especially if they go viral. The speed at which a message can spread via social media means both good and bad press can circle the world in a flash.

Consumers who take issue, justified or not, with a company and its promotional products now have virtual megaphones to spread their discontent. With plenty of people and resources ready to spread gossip without verifying the truth, the best way to protect your brand is to be proactive.

Here are 4 creative ways your business can  use promotional products toTo increase sales.

1. Hold Individual Conversations

Modern marketing is now about having a series of conversations with individuals rather than showing a uniform brand message to a number of faceless “customers,” as noted in this report from MarketingSherpa.com. With Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social media sites, individuals can contact your company directly and publicly, not privately as in more traditional forms of contact like email or calling customer service.

Just before and during your promotion, advertise the product on various social media accounts. Join in the conversation when consumers comment by either thanking them or offering more information, letting others see the interaction between the company and consumer.

Take advantage of this opportunity to invite further comments, ideas and feedback to begin conversations with other current or potential customers. Consumers want to be heard, and social media is the perfect place for a company to listen and respond.

2. Handle Negative Comments Privately

If you stay on top of social media regarding your company, you can protect your brand against the negative feedback. Just because your customers have a public forum to complain doesn’t mean that you are required to deal with their issues in public. If a comment is made on a public social media platform, acknowledge it politely and offer to get in touch offline to speak about the issue in more detail—but don’t ignore the message altogether.

On Twitter, ask an individual to follow you and then use direct messages for private contact. Once you are communicating privately with the individual, find out if there is a real service issue and handle it promptly. Never enter into an argument or become defensive when responding on social media. Thousands of potential consumers are watching the conversation, and one wrong comment could damage your reputation.

3. Research Product Safety and Codes

Before trying to spread awareness of a promotional product, it is important to ensure its safety. First perform thorough research about the product and its safety regulations, as many companies have gotten into legal and public relations trouble by offering a product with clear compliance issues. It is not, however, even necessary for an actual problem to exist in order to receive negative press.

Large regional grocery chains Publix and Winn Dixie was the subject of intense, negative scrutiny when newspaper reporters claimed to have discovered high amounts of lead in the stores’ reusable grocery bags, according to Promo Marketing Magazine.

In reality, the actual amount of lead in the bags was very low and it was unclear if any regulations had been broken. The story, although unsubstantiated, went viral and severely damaged the brands’ reputations.

It is a cautionary tale for brands releasing promotional products. Even if a product is deemed safe, one person’s perception that it may not be could induce a public relations nightmare. Avoid this by carefully choosing your products and do research to ensure there are no underlying or potential issues.

This holds especially true for children’s products, which have separate strict regulations. Educate yourself on basic consumer product regulations, laws and standards to help choose the right product for your promotion.

4. Build a Positive Reputation Via Customer Reviews

Building a positive reputation for your company online is paramount, so that the few negative comments have less impact on the overall business. Besides conducting great business and serving your customers well, take action to give your company more positive press. Keep negative stories out of search results and balance negative commentary with positive feedback.

One way to accomplish this is by asking your customers for positive reviews. People tend that people tend to leave reviews when they are dissatisfied, but those that are happy with an experience might never publicly reach out.

A positive review is better amongst unhappy individuals. By asking your satisfied customers to review your brand online, you can reduce the visibility of negative feedback and provide more positive press for search engines to find and for potential customers to read.

About the author:  Michael Semer is a creative marketing jack of all trades. From creative direction to digital media management, he has worked with many prolific brands and agencies to drive results. Currently, Michael is the senior director of strategy and creative director for The Regan Group.
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