June 20, 2011

5 keys to facing social media disaster

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One of your employees wrote something very disparaging on your corporate twitter feed. One of your deficient products is turning your Facebook wall into a river of hate. Your community manager mistook his private account for the company’s social outpost and publicly invited his bros to get wasted with him in the evening.

Ouch!
As described in Should companies fear social media blunders?, this is a common nightmare of CCOs entering the social highway. Although social engagement policies and guidelines go a long way towards eliminating the greatest risks, these situations do happen and should be tackled appropriately.

Here are five ways of containing the wildfire before it spreads.

Dealing with trouble on social media

1. Stay out of trouble. Pretty obvious, I know, but still true!

While damaging cases of crises born on social media do happen (Domino Pizza, Dell Hell), they are the minority. In most cases, social media is simply relaying real world bad news such as product failure, bad customer service or some form of scandal.

If you already have an online community giving you feedback, it is essential to monitor what is being said to identify sources of tension and locate the greatest risks and those who foster them: are they just whining with no following, determined detractors, is the community responding? Is the topic a pain-point likely to contaminate offline audiences and important to your business and reputation or something you can totally forget about? Are there real factors behind the rant? Is it misinformed? …

Understanding this feedback lets you steer clear of trouble or at least plan a reaction for it.

2. Be prepared. Have a plan and a community ready.
Focus
Reacting quickly and efficiently requires you to have rehearsed a corporate crisis plan for all the possible situations you can encounter on your social media outposts (see: Is your crisis management destroying your corporate reputation?). If you are constantly extinguishing fires and never find time to define and rehearse plans, you will always be fumbling and will never communicate successfully in stressful situations. Rehearsing crisis scenarios (product recall, rogue employee, internal scandal, accident …) is also a great way of discovering how you and your team react to upheaval. Be sure to evaluate and update your plan after use.

Also, do you have executive support endorsement to engage online when crisis strikes? Or will you require lengthy authorizations in order to respond on twitter, Facebook, blogs, forums … ?

3. Engage, inform and build trust. Publish great content.

Owning a community online is a great way of ensuring that any trouble will happen on your turf rather than in some uncharted corner of the social universe. It will give you the ability to react earlier and existing fans will actively defend you. But this requires establishing the community on the appropriate media (where people are already discussing your industry) and nurturing the community.

Great content is one of the keys to successful community building. Publishing regular, informative (or fun, depending on your sector) sharable updates will support your PR and community growing efforts. (see: Why PR teams should use Social Media for Online Reputation Management) Today, can your online audiences understand your company’s values and vision by through online information?

4. Think global. Social Media is only a part of the picture.
Is your company purely a brand pushed along by marketing or does it have a strong PR culture? Is the social media crisis you are experiencing likely to interest more audiences than your social community?

Depending on your profile and the situation, you can focus exclusively on the community itself or need to engage proactively with the media and your other important stakeholders. In any case, stakeholder engagement is an essential pre-crisis success factor because it provides a credibility cushion. Any stakeholder you have kept informed will question bad news rather than buy into the rumour. Edelman’s 2011 Trust barometer shows how much less bad news is likely to have an impact on a company with a good reputation (and vice versa).

5. Stay calm and respond. Find the right spokesperson.

In What makes an ideal crisis manager?, Vickie Elmer identifies the three key consistent characteristics that the best leaders display when faced with impending doom. Realistic optimism, a passion for confronting reality and an ability to find order in chaos are all important. And in the previous post, I argued that PR is best suited to handle crisis management.

Whatever your company culture, social media communications require an authentic voice (turn again to Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer: company experts are among the most valued spokespersons) and one that brings enough knowledge to share and a good view of how the company is handling the situation.

How and what you communicate is up to you and the situation at hand. In most cases, acknowledging responsibility and planning believable recovery steps help tremendously. That will be the subject of a future post.

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Creative common images by lincolnblues and Checkered and aMUSEd

Rachel: – Do you have a plan?
Phoebe: – I don’t even have a pl
My apologies if you are not a “Friends” fan.

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