Social Media: Are You Heeding the Warning Signs?

Hurricane Irene is heading up the east coast of the U.S. and both government officials and civilians alike are paying attention to the warning signs. New York City has started evacuating the most vulnerable areas.

Watching the social media ecosystem for potential issues and being prepared to proactively respond where appropriate is important for every business, whether you’re involved in social media or not.

From a business perspective, social media issues can emerge from one of the following three areas.

  1. Company. Think beyond your corporate name. Include your products, brands and senior executives. One careless slip of the lip or misinterpretation can start a firestorm on a relevant social media network. The BP CEO’s comment about his vacation during their firm’s oil spill is an extreme example. As you do with search optimization (aka SEO), monitor the terms that your customers use as well as your model numbers and other product nicknames.
  2. Competitors. Use a broad definition of competitors. Bear in mind that consumers may view a problem as category wide, not just limited to a specific brand. Further, consider whom your customers view as your competitive set since problems can easily spread from one firm to another.
  3. Public events. Assess how major news developments, economics and/or politics can have an impact on your business. Whether it’s a hurricane or economic slump, how do your customers and the public view your firm’s involvement in these areas?

To ensure that your firm’s prepared for challenges wherever they emerge, here are three steps to prepare your organization to heed the warning signs that an issue’s brewing in the social media ecosphere that could affect your company.

  1. Monitor the social media landscape. This means more than lip service. You need to listen to and analyze what your prospects, customers and the public are saying about your firm, products, brands and employees. Understand that, typically, you don’t need to respond to more than 2% of the comments but you must be able to distinguish which comments require an answer. Not having the money to invest in sophisticated brand monitoring software isn’t an excuse for not listening. You can use Google Alerts, Twitter Search and/or Social Mention in combination with feedback from your firm’s customer service and talking to customers to get an idea of the issues.
  2. Implement social media guidelines. As a firm, you don’t have control over what customers say about your organization but you can provide rules for how your employees should act on your behalf, how employees should identify themselves when they’re on social media networks on their own time, and how consumers should act on your internal media sites such as a blog. While you must acknowledge people’s rights to voice their opinions, even if they’re negative, you can set boundaries such as no foul language.
  3. Have a crisis management plan. The critical element to a crisis management plan extends beyond the need for a course of action. You must determine who will be in charge of your firm’s efforts, who the backup personnel are and how various areas of your organization will respond. For many firms, the challenge is reviewing this plan on a regular basis to ensure that you have the correct phone and email contacts of the designated representatives and a way to quickly contact those involved. Understand that a problem is most likely to happen on a holiday, weekend or late at night when no one’s around or available.

From a business perspective, it’s important to heed the warning signs that you have a social media marketing issue and not wait until your options are limited. To this end, monitor these three categories of potential problems and make sure that your organization is prepared to respond quickly and effectively.

Is there anything else that you’d add to this list? Please leave a comment with your ideas.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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Photo credit: MrB-MMX via Flickr

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