Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Engaging Audiences of Friends and Foes on Social Media

Community managers come across all types of people in their daily adventures in social media. No two audience-members are exactly alike, and understanding how to engage with them on a daily basis is key to ensuring a positive branded community. One day your brand’s Facebook timeline is filled with jovial pictures of fans engaging with your brand. Another day, your Twitter @ reply stream is inundated with irate customers, even though the problem wasn’t your fault. Ignoring them is not an option, so what’s a brand to do?

By using social listening and segmenting audience members into different groups, you can analyze the conversations around your brand (both inside and outside your owned properties) and address them in an appropriate way. Utilizing the proper protocols, you can move sentiment in a positive direction through conversation management.

To measure how favorable people are in general about your brand, you can divide the voices into five groups. We’ve provided our advice as to how you can make the positive more influential, give the neutral something to believe, and make the negative more positive. Note that the goal isn’t to turn fiends into fanatics overnight. Your goal as a community manager is to “bump” them up a single group at a time, nurturing your relationship over the long term.

1. Fanatics

Fanatics tell your story for you. They don’t just love you; they want to tell the world about you. They’re like employees you don’t have to pay—they actively advocate for your brand and spread your news. They tend to be very few, but can be incredibly vocal. Whatever you do, don’t let them get away.


Empower them by welcoming them individually. Being contacted by the brand they love will be a bit hit. It will validate their interest and secure their loyalty over the long haul. Give them goodies nobody else has, like original content and exclusive interviews. Treat them like family—they’re just as important!

2. Friends

Friends exhibit a generally positive attitude toward your brand, and even mildly positive preferences and attitudes can be dependably persistent. They’re not in love, yet, but are in like with you. They’re less vocal than Fanatics, but more plentiful.

Reward them by retweeting/sharing their content. Not only do you move the conversation your way, but you give a boost to the friend who complimented you. Acknowledging and thank them—A little bit of personal attention goes a long way toward shedding your unattractive corporate skin. Show them that you like them too.

3. Acquaintances

Acquaintances are aware of your brand, but don’t show much of an inclination pro or con. Their lack of predisposition often does reveal a truly neutral attitude. If they hated you, they’d say so. They might be looking for a thought leader, and consciously or subconsciously, acquaintances might at least be open to guidance—and trying to “figure out” your brand.

Befriend them by sharing what you know and like. Give them positive tidbits to help move the subconscious needle. Helpfully yet quickly dispel misinformation, repair, and repost in order to catch it before it spreads.

4. Foes

Foes aren’t out to get you…they’re just voicing a generally negative impression of your brand. Maybe they just prefer the competition, or they heard something negative that amused them and they’re passing it along. Sometimes it’s a negative comment that has nothing to do with your brand but mentions it. Or maybe they’ve just had a bad day and your brand has fallen in their sights.

Disarm them by begging to differ. Don’t tell them flat out that they’re wrong, but tell them you hear them and share an alternate experience. Pairing every casually negative comment with a casually positive response neutralizes the charge and conveys a general impression of balance. Help them understand that the negativity is just an exception.

5. Fiends

Fiends actively want to spread a negative vibe about your brand and can inflict a lot of damage. They may hate what they think you stand for or feel wronged and see this as a path to revenge. They may be misguided, or they may have a legitimate beef (the customer is sometimes right, right?). They are few, but they are powerful. Left unchecked, they can intimidate and silence your fanatics, they can coax passive foes into becoming active fiends, and they can convert the undecided over to the dark side.

Engage them by putting out the fire as soon as possible. If someone simply feels wronged by your brand, they can occasionally be satisfied with an apology or peace-making gesture like a credit towards another purchase. Be the voice of reason, within reason. You may not win, since some brand hatred is deep-seated. But be open and reasonable and you can at least marginalize your enemies.

By addressing these audience segments in different ways, you can have an active role in your community and a voice in all the most important conversations going on about your brand.

How does your community management address friends vs. foes?


  • terry doyle

    Many thanks for the post, Jon. Wicked helpful. We’re just getting started forming a new brand community, and I’m now neck deep in Hootsuite, so this will most definitely come in handy. Preesh!

  • Jon Thomas

    Hootsuite is my tool of choice. I think you’ll be happy with it. You can create a stream that gathers all mentions of any search term you want, so make sure to utilize that for mentions of your brand and such.