Thankfully, there are some success stories out there that we can look to for inspiration. Consider, for example what Coke and Pepsi are doing right.
Last week, the Harvard Business Review documented how Coke has managed to create the second most popular page on Facebook by endorsing -- not stifling -- a fan page started by a couple of people who happen to like Coke products. (Compare that to the way Nestle cracked down on fans who were expressing themselves through logo mash-ups.)
Likewise, Pepsi has opted not to blow a wad of cash on a Super Bowl campaign. Instead, the company launched the Refresh Everything campaign in which it asked customers to come up with ideas to "refresh the world" in categories like health, the environment, art, and education. Site visitors get to vote, and winners get grants ranging from $5000 to $250,000.
In both cases, the HBR makes the point that these companies are building goodwill with customers. In Pepsi's case, for example, it's not that money is being given away so much as Pepsi has started a real dialog with its fans and has connected itself with efforts to improve the community. Coke's campaign isn't quite so grand, but it has leveraged its fanbase where they live -- on Facebook.
Perhaps these companies will be able to leverage some of this goodwill when an unexpected PR hiccup comes along. United Airlines, for example, had no goodwill capital to spend when Dave Carroll published a video about how the airline destroyed his guitar. 8.5 million people watched the video, cementing its horrific reputation.
Southwest Airlines -- a company with much a better goodwill portfolio -- fared much better when director Kevin Smith tried badmouthing the company -- many fans came to the airline's defense.
What's your company's goodwill quoient? Do you have any to spare? And are you working on ways to build a rapport with customers online? Sound off in the comments.