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Parkinson’s Protein Experiment in Space Station Cargo

SpaceX Falcon lift-off

SpaceX Falcon rocket lift-off, 14 August 2017 (SpaceX)

14 August 2017. An experiment to grow a crystallized form of protein associated with Parkinson’s disease is among the cargo that lifted off today from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The cargo of some 6,400 pounds in the SpaceX Dragon space craft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket includes an experiment, designed by researchers with the Michael J. Fox Foundation, expected to arrive at the International Space Station on Wednesday, 16 August.

Parkinson’s disease occurs when the brain produces less of the substance dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals from one neuron or nerve cell to another. As the level of dopamine lowers, people with Parkinson’s disease become less able to control their bodily movements and emotions. Symptoms include tremors, i.e. shaking, slowness and rigidity in movements, loss of facial expression, decreased ability to control blinking and swallowing, and in some cases, depression and anxiety. According to Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, some 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, with more than 10 million people worldwide living with the disease.

The experiment sent into space aims to grow crystals of a protein coded by the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, or LRRK2, gene. While Parkinson’s disease is not believed to be inherited in most cases, about 10 percent of people with the disorder are found with mutations in the LRRK2 gene. In some ethnic groups, such as Jews of Eastern European origin, also known as Ashkenazi Jews, Berbers in North Africa, and people in the Basque region of Spain and France, rates of LRRK2 mutations are higher, from 15 to 40 percent of Parkinson’s disease cases.

The protein coded by LRRK2, known as dardarin, is a building block of other proteins in the body, but its role in the development of Parkinson’s disease is not well understood. Studying proteins often requires converting them into crystals that provide details about their chemical structure, and thus clues for their activity in the body. On earth, however, this protein is small and compact. In conditions of microgravity, the protein may be able to grow into larger crystals, providing better data to target the protein in therapies.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation funded work by researchers at Oxford University in the U.K. and University of Frankfurt in Germany to prepare the LRRK2-derived proteins for transport to the International Space Station. After about a month, crystals grown on the space station will be returned to earth for further analysis by the same team, joined by colleagues from University of California at San Diego.

The LRRK2 experiment is one of 250 research items in the Dragon space craft’s cargo. The Dragon is expected to return with about 3,000 pounds of cargo, including the LRRK2 protein crystals, in about a month.

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Patent Set for Peptide Nerve Damage Treatments

Nerve cells illustration

(Colin Behrens, Pixabay)

14 August 2017. The European Patent Office announced its intent to award a patent on treatments for nerve cell damage based on the peptide thymosin beta 4. The patent will be awarded to Michael Chopp, a neuroscience researcher at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, which licensed his discoveries to the company RegeneRx Biopharmaceuticals Inc. in Rockville, Maryland.

RegeneRx is a developer of therapies derived from peptides, short protein chains or fragments, for tissue repair and regeneration. The company’s current focus is the peptide thymosin beta 4 that plays a key role in the structure of human and animal cells. Thymosin beta 4 helps regulate actins, proteins in cells that form into filaments to maintain the cell’s shape, as well as other cell functions, and can be instrumental in repairing damage to cells and tissue, such as in wound healing.

Research by Chopp and colleagues led to a formulation of thymosin beta 4 to treat peripheral neuropathy, damage to nerve cells outside of the central nervous system. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can range from mild tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness to more severe pain, muscle wasting, paralysis, and organ malfunctioning. RegeneRx cites Chopp’s research that demonstrates in lab animals the peptide’s ability to limit the effects of peripheral neuropathy.

Many cases of the disorder result from complications of diabetes, starting with nerve damage in the feet and legs, and extending to hands and arms. Peripheral neuropathy can also be caused by the autoimmune disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates 20 million people in the U.S. have some form of peripheral neuropathy.

One of RegeneRx’s products, code-named RGN-352, is an injectable form of thymosin beta 4 for treating nerve damage from peripheral neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and stroke, as well as prevent and repair cardiac damage resulting from heart attacks. The company completed an early-stage clinical trial of RGN-352 among 80 healthy volunteers to evaluate its safety, and the company says the therapy is now ready for intermediate-stage clinical studies testing its efficacy with peripheral neuropathy and other disorders.

In June 2017, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued a notice of allowance — also an intent to grant a patent — to Chopp and Henry Ford Health System on their thymosin beta 4 formulation as a treatment for cell and tissue damage. No schedule was given for the issuance of either patent.

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Can You Boost Your Promotional Prospects To Speed Up Career Progression?

– Contributed content –

Man in ties and pullover

(Freestocks.org, Pexels)

13 August 2017. When you first start out in your chosen career, you can often be happy with actually having the job that you’re not too worried about progressing right away. As you gain more experience and spend longer doing your job, you may find that you’re yearning to progress. It’s only natural. But the business world is changing. Years ago, you would have had to wait a set amount of years before you could be considered for a promotion or to progress in your career. Now, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. So, let’s consider some of the key ways that you can speed things up.

Get experience

One of the ways that you’re going to be able to get ahead is to make sure that you have the right experience. And this doesn’t just mean for your job role, but for the future job roles that you’re looking for. To do this, you may want to think about the experience you can get in the evenings after work, or at the weekends. Volunteering to take on additional work outside of your usual remit can also help you out here.

Get further qualifications

Then, you may want to think about how you can progress in your career with more knowledge. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel as if your education stops in your early twenties, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There is a range of further education steps you could take to land yourself career progression. From doing an RN to BSN online course or even going for your MBA, you will find that your promotional chances increase. This is specifically the case when you cannot progress without the qualifications.

Go above and beyond

Next, you should definitely think about the ways in which you can go above and beyond your job description. Being able to stand out at work will definitely help your chances of landing the promotion you’re looking for. If you’re able to do more than what is asked of you, do your work well, and help out whether you’re asked to or not, you will find it goes a long way and helps you to stand out in your employer’s eyes.

Think outside the box

Sometimes, the things that can get your noticed and prime you for progression are the ideas that you come up with. Not every job role will require fresh ideas, but you will find that contributing to business progression and success with your ideas will stand you in good stead. If you’re able to help the company improve overall, you will be likely to progress at a speedier rate than is expected.

Move horizontally

Finally, when you’re struggling to progress where you are, and you feel as if there is no room for a promotion anytime soon, you should consider moving across to another company or another role within the industry. Because you don’t have to stay in the same business. That way, you don’t have to wait to be promoted, or for an opportunity to arise, especially when there is a chance for progression elsewhere.

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Infographic — Effects of Automation at Work

Infographic: The Effects of Automation at Work | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

13 August 2017. Science & Enterprise reports frequently on technologies used in the work place, like artificial intelligence and robotics. On Friday, our friends at Statista presented data from a survey by KRC Research on opinions of automation at work, broken down by management and workers. Overall, workers see somewhat more risks from automation, while management tends to see more advantages.

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Smartphone Attachment Performs Medical Diagnostics

Tri-Analyzer system

Tri-Analyzer system (Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

11 August 2017. An engineering lab at University of Illinois created a device that uses a smartphone’s imaging and processing features to analyze human specimen samples for detecting disease. Bioengineering professor Brian Cunningham and colleagues in Urbana-Champaign describe their device in the 24 July issue of the journal Lab on a Chip (paid subscription required).

Cunningham’s team is seeking reliable techniques and systems that analyze a patient’s condition at the point of care, rather than sending specimens from the patient off for testing in a separate or remote lab. Their hand-held system, called the Tri-Analyzer — short for transmission-reflectance-intensity — combines features of microfluidic or lab-on-a-chip devices to capture and flow blood, saliva, and urine samples, with a smartphone’s camera, lights, and processing features.

The Tri-Analyzer acts as a high-resolution spectrometer, a common piece of lab equipment that measures changes in light waves through a sample to determine its composition. Blood, saliva, or urine samples are captured on a cartridge with a number of separate compartments inserted into the device, where the smartphone’s built-in LED camera flash or a diode in the device illuminates the sample. Light from these sources is sent through the sample cartridge or read by a light-sensitive crystal biosensor.

Light waves transmitted through the samples or from the biosensor are collected and sent by an optical fiber through a grate that diffracts or spreads the light into a spectrum, for reading by the smartphone’s rear-facing camera. The camera then captures the spectra images as video for analysis by software installed on the phone.

The Illinois team demonstrated the Tri-Analyzer with two tests associated with maternal and infant health. One test processes samples for fetal fibronectin proteins that bind the baby to the uterus, and after 35 weeks begin to break down, where it becomes detectable. If fetal fibronectin breaks down too early, it’s an indicator of possible pre-term birth. The second test measures samples for phenylalanine, a component of proteins. In rare cases, babies are born without the ability to adequately process phenylalanine, a condition known as phenylketonuria, where phenylalanine builds up, leading to intellectual disability and other serious health problems.

The researchers report the Tri-Analyzer successfully evaluated samples for both conditions, with detection ability comparable to commercial enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, or Elisa, tests on conventional medical lab equipment.

In a university statement Cunningham calls the TriAnalyzer, “the Swiss Army knife of biosensing.” Cunningham adds that, “It’s capable of performing the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics, so in practice, thousands of already-developed tests could be adapted to it.”

Cunningham estimates the cost of the Tri-Analyzer at $550.00. The university says the technology already has a patent, but is available for licensing.

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Creative Ideas Mined with Crowdsourcing, Neural Nets

Personal data illustration

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

11 August 2017. A computer science team developed a process that combines crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence to find analogies across disciplines to spark creative ideas. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Hebrew University of Jerusalem describe the process in a paper delivered next week at the Conference on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The team led by Carnegie Mellon’s Aniket Kittur in the university’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and Dafna Shahaf who studies computational analogies at Hebrew University is seeking better ways of finding creative ideas in large unstructured collections of innovation, such as inventions. Rather than looking for concrete solutions in these collections, however, the researchers are more interested generating new ideas, using analogies from one field to spark creative thinking in a different discipline.

The authors note that there’s no shortage of these idea collections. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, for example, has a database of more than 9 million patents, while Quirky, a company that helps inventors design and develop their product concepts as more than 307,000 inventions in its files. But techniques for mining these collections so far either look for close matches to specific structures or criteria, or simply analyze text in the databases, without looking into the methods or processes behind the inventions.

To find analogies, Kittur and Shahaf, with Hebrew University doctoral candidate Tom Hope and Carnegie Mellon postdoctoral researcher Joel Chan, built a simple model for representing the structure of an idea that describes its purpose, along with the mechanism for achieving that purpose. With that model, the team could analyze innovation databases to discover methods and techniques that can serve as analogies, and attach quantitative values to those analogies when applied to a different field.

For raw material, the researchers turned to the Quirky.com database of more than 307,000 inventions from 1.2 million members. The team then asked participants in Amazon Turk, a crowdsourced marketplace for what Amazon calls Human Intelligence Tasks, to review the inventions from Quirky and annotate “what the product does, what it is good for” (purpose) and “how it works, what are its components” (mechanism). With this method, the Amazon Turk contributors examined some 8,500 products, with 4 reviewers assigned to each product.

The team used this initial collection to train its systems, using an artificial intelligence technique known as neural networks, also known as deep learning, where algorithms are developed and refined from examples, and become more expert and confident as they experience more data. The examples provided in this case include the methods employed by inventors, making it possible to use these techniques to find analogies in diverse fields and enterprises.

To test their results, the researchers went back to Amazon Turk for participants to find pairs of analogous products in the Quirky database, with the team’s algorithms analyzing the same data. A rank-ordering of 2,500 analogy pairs shows the neural network analysis found more analogies than the human participants.

In another test of the system, Amazon Turk workers were asked to come up with ideas for redesigning an existing product, such as a cell phone charger case. Participants were given three sources of ideas for the redesign:

Analogies in the Quirky database produced by the researchers’ algorithms

Simple text searches of Quirky products

Random examples of Quirky products

The team recruited 5 graduate students to review the 749 ideas generated by the participants, with 249 of those ideas considered “good,” of which 208 were comparable across all 3 conditions. Nearly half of the ideas produced by analogies (46%) were rated as “good,” compared to 37 percent for random suggestions and 30 percent from text searches.

“Once you can search for analogies, you can really crank up the speed of innovation,” says Shahaf in a Carnegie Mellon statement. “If you can accelerate the rate of innovation, that solves a lot of other problems downstream.”

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Viruses Removed from Pig Organs for Human Transplants

Piglets

(Andrew Martin, Pixabay)

10 August 2017. Researchers in the U.S., Denmark, and China devised a process with genome editing to remove viruses that prevent organs from pigs from being used for human transplants. The process is described by a team from the start-up company eGenesis Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with colleagues from Harvard University, Aarhus University in Denmark, and several institutions in China, in today’s issue of the journal Science (paid subscription required).

The researchers were led by eGenesis’s co-founder Luhan Yang, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School in the lab of geneticist and company co-founder George Church. The company is developing techniques with genome editing to make organs from pigs suitable for human transplantation, and address the continuing problem of shortages in organs needed for transplants. According to the web site OrganDonor.gov, more than 117,000 people in the U.S. are on waiting lists for organ transplants, with another person added to the list every 10 minutes. Despite more than 33,600 organ transplants being performed in 2016, an estimated 22 people die each day waiting for a transplant.

An obstacle to the use of organs from pigs, however, are porcine endogenous retroviruses from pig cells, tissues, and organs. The presence of these retroviruses throughout the pig genome prevents xenotransplantation, or the transfer of pig organs to humans, where they can infect human cells, tissues, and organs. While genome editing is a promising method for removing DNA responsible for these retroviruses, the technique was attempted so far only on individual cell lines, not in live animals.

Yang and colleagues first documented the risks posed by porcine endogenous retroviruses to human cells. In a series of lab tests, the team confirmed the retroviruses can infect human cells, when cultured together. The team then showed the ability for infected human cells to spread the retroviruses to other uninfected human cells. These tests underscored the need to first deactivate porcine endogenous retroviruses in donor animals.

Next, the researchers mapped the genome of connective tissue in pigs and identified 25 regions where porcine endogenous retroviruses could be derived. Using the genome editing technique Crispr — for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats — and the enzyme Cas9 to perform the edits, the team was able to remove from the pig genome copies of the genes responsible for the retroviruses.

Attempts to clone the connective tissue cells showed the genome editing removed as much as 90 percent of retrovirus genes, but not all. The researchers needed to treat the precursor cells to a cocktail of growth factors and inhibitor proteins during genetic, making it possible to produce pig embryos with inactivated genes that express the retroviruses, indicated by the lack of characteristic virus particles secreted by the modified cells.

The researchers then implanted the embryos in sows determined to be free of the retroviruses, with the resulting piglets also exhibiting no sign of activated genes in the DNA that produce the retroviruses. An analysis of RNA in the pigs’ tissue, the transcription of genetic code that gives instructions for protein in cells, also showed no sign of retrovirus activation. In addition, the researchers were able to produce 37 piglets with deactivated retrovirus genes from 17 sows at the time of the publication, with the oldest piglet still thriving after 4 months.

The eGenesis team says it is monitoring the piglets for long-term effects. “This research represents an important advance in addressing safety concerns about cross-species viral transmission,” says Yang, who serves as the chief scientist at eGenesis, in a company statement. The researchers expect further genome editing may be needed to eliminate potential immune reactions from xenotransplanted organs.

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When Art And Science Collide — The Key To Successful Branding

– Contributed content –

10 August 2017. To build a successful brand, it’s beneficial to combine both art and science. You need to understand what makes consumers tick, but you also need to appeal to their emotions and to capture their imaginations. If you’re working on your company’s brand or you’re preparing to launch a startup, and you need some useful branding tips, hopefully, this guide will come in handy.

Branding graphic

(EdgeThreeSixty, Flickr)

Understanding your customer

The key to running a successful business lies in the ability to give customers what they want. This sounds straightforward, but 90 percent of startups fail, so it’ not always plain sailing. The best way to go about building a brand that appeals to your market is to combine research methods. If you use both qualitative and quantitative techniques, you can observe people’s habits, ask for their ideas and gain an understanding of why they behave in the way they do. This two-pronged approach enables you to gain a much deeper insight.

Appealing to both parts of the brain

In basic terms, the brain is made up of parts that are governed by emotions and logic. To make your branding strategy more effective, it’s wise to try and appeal to both parts. You want to trigger an emotional response, but you also want to understand why this response occurs. Consider buying a product as an example. You want that product to prompt an emotional response, but you also want to understand the logic that person uses to decide whether or not they make a purchase. If you can comprehend what makes that person justify their decision, you’re likely to generate more sales.

Getting your brand about

Once you have a logo, a brand name and a strapline and your product is ready to go, you need to get your brand out there. Again, the best way to do this is combine artistic and creative thinking with the use of research and proven methods. You may be aware that a product launch has been hugely successful for a competitor. Taking this information on board, use data from your target market to plan an event that is relevant, intriguing and original. Think about how you can promote your brand. Make use of merchandise, but don’t churn out the same old ideas. The guests you’ve invited probably don’t need another paperweight or key ring, so why not go for something useful and different like portfolios to stay organized? Ensure that everything you do comes back to the brand, from a pitch, to a promotional video to a Facebook post you’re showing to demonstrate the firm’s social media strategy

Standing out from the crowd

You’re standing in front of a shelf at the supermarket. How many different brands can you see? If you’re buying a bottle of gin, for example, what makes you favor one bottle or brand over another? Is it the packaging? The logo? The flavor? The name? The design? Or is it simply that you buy the same product over and over again because you trust the brand? If you’re a new brand, and you haven’t got a client base yet, it’s so important to be able to stand out. What makes your brand different and how can you be original? Use market research and data, but embrace your creative side too.

Brand word cloud

(Nick Youngson, Blue Diamond Gallery)

Your brand is your identity, and it’s so beneficial to get branding right. If you’re a new business, or you’re considering a rebrand, take these suggestions on board.

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Peptide Immunotherapy Shown Safe for Type 1 Diabetes

Diabetes items

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

10 August 2017. In an early clinical trial, researchers in the U.K. show treatments with peptides, fragments of proteins, are safe and can slow the progression of type 1 diabetes. A team from King’s College London and Cardiff University in Wales describe their findings in yesterday’s issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Type 1 diabetes is an inherited autoimmune disorder where the body does not produce insulin, and is diagnosed primarily in children or young adults. Autoimmune disorders are conditions where the immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells and tissue as if they were foreign invaders, in this case, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. About 1.25 million people in the U.S. and 400,000 in the U.K. have type 1 diabetes, about 5 percent of people with diabetes of any kind.

With no therapies for type 1 diabetes yet approved, the research team led by King’s College immunologist Mark Peakman is seeking a way of using immunotherapies to treat the disorder. Immunotherapies harness the immune system to fight disease and are being developed for a number of conditions. But with autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, there’s a risk of making the patient’s condition worse by triggering an unintended immune system reaction.

Peakman’s lab is developing an immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes in the form of peptides, or short protein fragments, which were tested in the trial. This peptide is a proinsulin, or precursor to insulin, produced in the pancreas’s beta cells with genetic markers similar to people with type 1 diabetes. The goal, as Peakman explains in a Kings College statement, is to harness and protect the still-functioning beta cells. “When someone is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes they still typically have between 15 percent and 20 percent of their beta cells,” says Peakman. “We wanted to see if we could protect these remaining cells by retraining the immune system to stop attacking them.”

The early-stage clinical trial recruited 24 individuals with type 1 diabetes at 5 sites in the U.K., diagnosed in the previous 100 days, and who had the specific genetic markers associated with the proinsulin peptide. Participants were randomly assigned to receive injections of the peptide every 2 weeks for 6 months, peptide injections every 4 weeks for 6 months alternating with saline solution injections between the peptide injections, or only saline solution injections every 2 weeks for 6 months.

The study team look primarily at safety factors, notably any damage to participants’ remaining beta cells, as well as allergic and injection site reactions. The researchers found recipients of the peptide injections every 2 or 4 weeks had no reductions in C-peptides associated with insulin production, indicating their functioning beta cells remained stable over the 6 months. Among participants receiving the saline solution, however, their insulin production declined during this period. Over 12 months, daily insulin use by peptide recipients remained stable, while saline solution recipients increased their daily insulin by 50 percent.

The researchers found the peptide injections were well tolerated with no systemic or local site reactions. In addition, the immune systems in peptide recipients continued to function and even improve protective T-cell responses, with no additional stress put on beta cells.

“We still have a long way to go,” notes Peakman, “but these early results suggest we are heading in the right direction. The peptide technology used in our trial not only appears to be safe for patients at this stage, but it also has a noticeable effect on the immune system.”

Kings College licensed the technology for type 1 diabetes to biopharmaceutical company UCB in Brussels that plans to commercialize the peptide and develop a next-generation product for further clinical trials.

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Should Businesses Fear Social Media Engagement?

– Contributed content –

9 August 2017. The world is a harsh place, but the digital world can seem more so. Here everyone has a voice, and it can be loud enough to be heard all around the globe. If someone wants to post something unpleasant or negative about your business, chances are hundreds of people will see it. That gives every user of social media the chance to become a voice of authority. Where one moans, others will follow, right?

Not necessarily. Many businesses avoid a presence on social media because they don’t know how to handle the few voices that can whip up a storm. However, this might be a mistake. Sure, ignoring the trolls is often a good strategy. But if you aren’t aware of what is being said at all, how can you protect your business reputation? Can you address your customer’s needs should they have genuine problems?

Phone user

(Pexels.com)

Social media is also live twenty-four hours per day. If you do step foot onto the platform, you’re opening your customer service or sales doors at all times. This isn’t always practical for a small company. What you need is an outsourced service provision that manages all of your online communities on your behalf. According to www.ignitedigital.com/, this can feed your sales funnels, address customer inquiries as they come in, and support your brand strategy at the same time.

What is an online community? This is the space you create to engage your customers. The people that participate could be anywhere in your sales funnel. They choose to engage with your brand because you have something they are interested in. This might start out as information such as advice.

What do you use this engagement for? Ultimately, you’re investing in building relationships with customers to make sales. Of course, these days, customers want more for their money. And they have far more choice, so they will only part with their cash if they have researched you and developed trust in your brand. That is why you are engaging customers – to build trusting relationships without the hard sales push.

Colorful phone screen

(Fancycrave, Pexels.com)

Can it all go horribly wrong? Yes, easily. If your strategy and engagement policy is not clearly defined, your brand voice cannot be consistent. You should also use metrics daily to identify any potential problems. This will also help you identify things that are working, and could offer leads for future campaigns.

What’s the strategy? Head to your FAQs page on your website. Make sure it is complete. Most of the problems customers will ask about on social media can probably be answered here. Ensure all the resources for product support are posted here. Give your online customer service representatives every tool they need to answer every query a customer might have.

Coping with ‘trolls’ requires a clear head and an ability to take nothing personally. Each person working on your social media community must adopt a single persona – that of your brand. They represent that, so nothing must be posted that can harm it. Disengage if the conversation brings nothing of benefit to either party. The simplest strategy is to invite disgruntled customers to a private chat where you can attempt to resolve their problem live. Does your company use social media to its full potential?

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