Contributed by Jonas Sickler
It’s easy to understand why social media is alluring to small businesses with tight marketing budgets. While it does require a time investment, it is otherwise free to set up and use. If cost and accessibility weren’t enticing enough the promise of traffic-driving viral content would certainly seal the deal.
Yet, with great reward comes great risk.
Careless management of your social media accounts and improper crisis communications planning can alienate your customers and damage your brand.
What Causes Social Media Crises?
An estimated 81% of Americans use some form of social media, so it’s easy to see how conflict can occur. Perhaps your social media manager accidentally “liked” an offensive post on your timeline. Maybe an irate customer launched a Twitter tell-all about their bad experience, or an intern posted something sarcastic.
Uproars are often caused by simple mistakes and misunderstandings, both of which are preventable with proper oversight.
Simple errors aren’t the only catalysts for calamity, as hackers have breached the official Twitter accounts of many corporations. While the intentions are usually to cause mischief, there can be embarrassing consequences for brands. This opens the door to other criticism about how the attack occurred, even if a company can blame the unintended post on a security breach.
All of your social media posts should pass the tattoo test: Think twice before acting because any mistakes are permanent. Even if you catch an error quickly and delete the post, anyone could have taken a screenshot of your content and shared it seconds after it was posted. The bigger your mistake, the more likely it will be perpetuated for weeks or months through memes and news articles.
As uncomfortable as it may be to see unflattering posts in your social feed, deleting those complaints rather than dealing with them almost always makes the situation worse. You’ll be adding insult to injury and your brand could be accused of whitewashing its image. Providing crisis communication training to your team in advance is key to preventing a social media meltdown in front of the general public.
Social Media Crisis Prevention
1. Develop a Crisis Plan
Proper preparation is one of the most important steps of mitigating a crisis. Even businesses that regularly perform risk analysis are vulnerable to unforeseen events affecting their suppliers, consumers, or the general public. Because crises by nature are unpredictable, you should at least develop a preparedness strategy that can be modified in an emergency.
Your plan should determine the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders and spokespersons and include a holding statement for the press. The team responsible for managing your social media should also be trained in crisis management. In the event a situation arises, the investment will pay off.
2. Choose the Right Social Media Manager
Putting the wrong person in charge of your social accounts can be disastrous. Before assigning social media duties to inexperienced interns or employees who are too busy, ask yourself if they would be able to handle a crisis.
A good social media manager thinks before acting, can accept criticism, and has some public relations experience. Keep those who are impulsive, quick to anger, or sarcastic away from your social media accounts.
3. Understand Your Followers
Social media is an excellent tool for leveraging trending cultural events and news, but it’s crucial to know your audience before engaging with them.
By making assumptions about your followers and demographics you risk insulting them by using the wrong tone or making an insensitive statement. The larger and more diverse your follower base is, the greater the risk of offending someone.
4. Draft Social Media Guidelines
Employees ranting about their workplace on social media has landed countless businesses in hot water – and has pushed workers into the unemployment line. Posts mentioning a brand are visible to potential customers and business partners when searching a company’s name. Since happy employees are an excellent recruiting tool, provide them with clear guidelines about acceptable behavior.
5. Monitor Mentions
Keep your eyes peeled for brand mentions on social media. You may be able to identify a smoldering customer experience issue by carefully reading posts. For example, several snarky tweets about long lines could give you an opportunity to fix a serious problem before a crisis breaks.
6. Be Engaged
Don’t misclassify social media as a sales tool. It can provide deep insights into your company’s customer experience allowing you to retain existing relationships that would be expensive to replace. Listen to your followers and engage them in discussions. Quickly responding to criticism can stop situations from becoming hostile.
7. Be Professional and Empathetic
A critical step toward avoiding a crisis is professionally responding to negative social media comments. Any time you reply to criticism in a public forum, imagine you’re holding a microphone in an auditorium filled with millions of people. You’re addressing all your followers each time you publish a post or respond to a comment.
It’s also important to understand that customers may be using social media as a last resort because they weren’t able to reach your company to voice their frustration. Trying to sweep unflattering posts under the rug by deleting them or blocking users almost always ends badly.
You can help diffuse a volatile situation by making an effort to understand what caused it. You may even be able to prevent such an incident from appearing on your social feed by giving your customers an easy avenue to file complaints on your website.
Know Your Limits
If you don’t have time to manage your accounts properly, think about hiring a dedicated team member or outsourcing the work to a company that understands the process. While you may be able to get by without much effort on your own, there’s always the chance of a costly mistake catching you off guard.
Don’t let bandwidth or backlash prevent you from using social media. Intelligently managed social platforms can have a considerable impact on your ability to mitigate a crisis. If you really listen to your followers, respond with speed and compassion to problems, and have a crisis communication plan in place, you can easily make the most of social marketing.
Jonas been developing and deploying marketing campaigns for nearly two decades. His experience ranges from connecting multinational brands with influencers across social media, websites, and blogs to helping brands and high net worth individuals protect and rebuild their online reputations—a skill that requires a deep understanding of social media, public relations and search engine mechanics.