Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes they make us cringe. Other times we feel bad for those involved. One thing is for sure: they always draw attention. I’m talking about social media PR disasters. Before the Internet (and especially social media) was so ubiquitous, PR snafus were generally confined to mainstream media. A company had to make a pretty big mistake in order for the press to take notice, but now even the slightest misstep can potentially result in droves of Internet users sharing a company’s misfortune gleefully and without restraint. I’d like to offer some suggestions on surviving a social media disaster.
Before we explore options for mitigating a social media image problem, I’d like to draw attention to a classic example of a social media misstep.
Is That Your Account?
A notable example of a social media blunder happened back in March of 2011 when a Chrysler employee accidentally used the company Twitter account to bemoan the driving habits of Detroiters.
Incidents like this underscore an important concept that is easy to lose sight of in the rapidly growing world of interconnectivity. It is far easier to promote a brand, and along with that, far easier to damage it with careless oversight. At the time of this tweet, Chrysler had about 7,500 followers. Reaching and engaging with that many people directly used to be an incredibly costly and time consuming process that involved many seasoned professionals and industries. Today (and probably not in Chrysler’s case), some companies leave such power in the hands of interns, entry-level employees or those who simply don’t respect the fragility of the brands they’ve been trusted with keeping.
What Can We learn?
Obviously, from the Chrysler scenario, you should be aware of what account you are using to post a tweet, post, status update or what have you (especially if you’re using derogatory comments about a business’ audience). For my company’s presence, I don’t even like to log in to a company account on a personal machine or device if I can help it. More importantly, though, as marketers, we have to understand that the brands we manage online for our employers or our clients are delicate and are tied to the livelihoods of other people. With that being true, we should be forever mindful of how we portray a brand online.
Tips for Surviving a Disaster
- Have a plan: This tip doesn’t really relate to what you should do in the aftermath of a mistake, but before it happens. The very best thing you can do if your business is just starting out in social media, or even if you have been doing it for a while, is to create a crisis-management plan. This should outline very specifically what you are going to do in the event of a negative scenario. Naturally, you can’t plan for every possible hiccup, but you can at least get the obvious ones out of the way. Include very specific procedures for what you will do and who you will contact, as well as their contact information. For example, a person leaving negative feedback on a Facebook timeline may not warrant contacting anyone and simply responding to the person quickly. Conversely, if an employee is sharing sensitive company information maliciously via Twitter, that may warrant calling the CEO on a Sunday so that you can get out in front of the situation. When social media problems arise, time is of the essence, and having a plan saves you time.
- React Quickly: As mentioned before, time is of the essence with social media. Problems get bigger, stakeholders get angrier, and more damage can be done to a brand the longer it takes for an appropriate response to be executed. The very worst thing you can do as a business in the social media realm is to ignore things. For instance, a business might simply choose to ignore negative feedback on a social media account rather than respond to it. Most of the time people posting negative comments simply want to be acknowledged, and doing so often resolves the issue. Configure social accounts so that you will be alerted whenever someone mentions you, posts to your account or otherwise interacts with the brand. Consult your plan and act accordingly as fast as possible. Obviously, you don’t have to respond within 30 seconds, but leaving things hanging for a day is unacceptable.
- Be Transparent: Don’t try and cover things up; this typically backfires and could potentially cause more damage to a brand than was being done in the first place. If (as a business) something was screwed up, acknowledge that and then offer solutions to fix it. Don’t blame, don’t shed responsibility (if it is your fault), and definitely don’t lie. Work with customers or other stakeholders on fixing the issue. Also, it is important to leave comments out there even if they were negative. Trying to hide things from public view will also backfire on you. This can also be an opportunity to show prospects and customers something special about your business. It shows them that you are able to deal with customer complaints and problems appropriately and that the business wants to work with people and not against them.
- Take it somewhere else: You can’t control who is going to use your public forum to start something with the company, but you can control where it goes next. As a rule of thumb, if someone has an issue with a service, a product or the company in general, always attempt to take the conversation offline. For instance, if someone has a bad experience with a product that they bought from your business and they decide to vent on Facebook about it, acknowledge the issue quickly by apologizing for any inconvenience and invite the person to speak by phone or email in your response. Obviously, it’s their choice as to whether or not they take you up on the offer, but you still need to try. Most of the time (if it is a legitimate grievance and not just someone with a vendetta), they will agree and the situation can be resolved in a non public way. Naturally, you can still solve issues publically (assuming no sensitive information is involved), and this notion relies even more heavily on being transparent as a company.
- The customer is always right: As marketers, we often play a lot of different roles. Sometimes we are web masters, other times we are sales people and more often than not, we are customer-service professionals. When dealing with social media problems where customers or employees are disgruntled, you always have to give them the benefit of the doubt and take whatever they have to dish out to you. You may not like it, and even if they are wrong, you have to agree with them.
Of course, there are other social media disasters with solutions not mentioned here, such as Burger King’s recent Twitter password security breach. Often things like these offer their own obvious lessons (like keeping your password safe and non obvious). Or in the Chrysler example above, we can plainly see that someone was careless. Above all, I think the best way to survive a social media disaster is to be open and honest. You can’t un-ring a bell and people realize that organizations are comprised of people; and people make mistakes. As long as those mistakes are handled with grace, humility and intelligence, brands can survive a social media misstep.
Do you have experience dealing with social media disasters? What are some of the techniques that you rely on when you need to extinguish a problem in the social media realm? Let us know what you think by dropping us a line or leaving a comment below.