When Social Media Goes Bad

7 Guidelines For What To Do In A Social Media Crisis

How to combat a pr crisisSocial media is a tell-like-it-is medium, not a create-a-glossy-ad-and-place-it marketing. As such, social media requires active, ongoing engagement with the potential to elicit negative responses that can cause a PR crisis.

7 Social media marketing realities

Social Media Week’s Suxorz, which selected 2011’s worst social media campaigns, underscored the problems marketers and PR professionals continue to face when creating social media campaigns

  1. Can’t control the social media conversation. Consumers are on social media to engage with their family and friends, not marketers. While companies don’t own the conversation, they can listen and participate appropriately on social media.
  2. Can’t use social media just to deliver your message. Social media isn’t a one-to-many traditional broadcast medium. Brands and marketers must play by the network’s rules, not just talk about their products. Woody Harrelson tried only discussing his movie, Ramparts, on Reddit’s AMA (Ask Me Anything) and became a meme.
  3. Can’t stop the public from voicing their issues. Social media gives everyone a free media platform for broadcasting his message. If your firm has detractors, they’ll use social media to let others know. Further, these participants tend to be more vocal than your great silent majority. You must try hard to distinguish between your offering’s true underlying issues and the trolls.
  4. Can’t wait to respond to an issue. Every moment counts on social media. The longer you wait, the worse the problem becomes. Two days, while short for your firm, is dog years on social media. This is why your firm needs to be prepared with a crisis management plan and 24/7 communications.
  5. Can’t disappear until the problem goes away. The ostrich approach isn’t an option on social media. The public knows there’s a problem so just own it. Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks made this point regarding Carnival Cruise Lines’ handling of the Costa Concordia tragic accident.
  6. Can’t hide behind an avatar. You need to be transparent and open in your social media communications. If you represent a firm, say so. Don’t just leave comments to try to prove you’re right.
  7. Can’t leave social media once your issue has subsided. Responding to a social media fire doesn’t make it permanently disappear. The Internet is forever and an unanswered or future problem can reignite your problem.

7 Guidelines for what to do in a social media crisis

There is no-one-solution-fits-all on social media that marketers or PR professionals can take to reduce the damage and take the air out of the conversation. Here are seven ways to respond effectively:

  1. Respond swiftly and appropriately. Don’t wait for your usual corporate decision-making process to develop a response, because it’ll take too long. Have a PR crisis management plan in place and up-to-date. Make sure you have access to the appropriate senior executives, including a member of your legal team who can make a fast decision if necessary.
  2. Let go of your anger. Social media isn’t about you. It’s about the community. This isn’t the time to raise the emotional pitch by letting your internal rage steer your actions. If you’re angry, mad, pissed, upset or feeling other negative emotions due to this social media flare-up, stay off of social media! While this sounds like it contradicts taking fast action, realize that it can be dangerous when social media actions bypass the intellectual part of your brain. Let someone else with a cooler, less emotional approach deal with the situation because you’re apt to do more harm than good.
  3. Respect your customers and the public. Don’t forget your manners, no matter who’s right or wrong. Social media is no place for foul language or irresponsible behavior.  This extends to every form of corporate communication since they can easily be transferred to social media. To this end, have a set of social media guidelines.
  4. Do your homework. This point can’t be overstated. One size doesn’t fit all on social media, including blogger outreach. Not all social media communications are created equal. Take the time to check out who a blogger is and their sphere of influence. (Hat tip to Rick Calvert for teaching me this lesson.)
  5. Assume your audience is at least as smart as you are. With the wisdom of crowds, social media participants are often smarter and more informed about the issues you’re discussing. So don’t talk down to them or believe you can trick them. It won’t work! Remember David Ogilvy’s words, “You wouldn’t tell lies to your wife. Don’t tell them to mine.” The same holds for bloggers as Conagra discovered with its bait-and-switch frozen pizza.
  6. Know the unstated rules of social media. Social media isn’t a conversation that you just turn on to sell a product when you want to increase sales. Social media is about the collective good and paying it forward.
  7. Turn social media issues into teachable moments. If your social media campaign goes awry, use these issues to improve your customer relations and build your brand. It will come back stronger with more engaged customers who have the potential to be your raving fans. Don’t underestimate the value of positive action. Dominos Pizza had a PR nightmare when YouTube videos went viral. The CEO responded and then used the incident to improve their product.

While marketers, PR pros and brands can’t control what happens on social media, you can control your response. At a minimum, be respectful, polite and engaged while taking prompt action. The longer you wait, the more the conversation will heat up. Even better, follow Dominos Pizza’s example; use the incident as a teachable moment to improve your product and strengthen your brand.

Have you had a social media crisis? If so, what did you do and why? What are your recommendations for responding to a social media crisis?

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.


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Post inspired by Suxorz Awards for 2011’s Worst Social Media during Social Media Week NYC.

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Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/piazzadelpopolo/4581537728/



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