Social media can do great things for brands. But along with the good it can do, there’s the ever-present potential for the phenomenally bad.
The public—that is, those people who don’t interact with your brands in the social space—will probably never know about those great positive conversations you have with fans and followers on your pages.
However, a social media nightmare can go from mild embarrassment to full humiliation in a matter of hours. That’s when the nightmare becomes a public relations matter.
I can only assume that PR departments detest nothing more than cleaning up after the wrongdoings of its social media team.
So here are a few tips for avoiding social media nightmares involving your company:
Always be aware of your company’s ad campaigns, including when and where they’re running.
Let’s say a news show is airing an interview on one of its programs. Now, if the subject of that news interview is, shall we say, unsavory, it’s not uncommon for a person to make the leap that your organization supports that unsavory character.
I’ve seen it happen. A brand my company works with aired a commercial during an interview with someone who had been in the news for negative reasons. Page managers woke up to a barrage of how-could-you-support-that-monster posts.
Obviously, the brand in question didn’t support “that monster.” The brand was simply advertising its product during a rather reputable news show. But the skewed thought processes of a few can turn your page into a sounding board for their distaste of something that has absolutely nothing to do with your brand.
Let’s say, for instance, your brand has 500,000 or so fans. It takes only 10 of them to start a firestorm on your page.
Simply being aware of where your brand is positioning its advertising can tip you off to anything controversial that might be coming along. As long as you’re not taken off guard and you’re quick to respond to the issue, you’ll be in good shape.
Always keep in mind that you want to control the conversation on your page—if there’s a negative post from a fan on your page, there had better be a post from your company underneath it.
Beware the rallying hordes.
Groups of people who are passionate about an unrelated topic can bombard your brand page. Few major brands don’t have some activist organization rallying against some aspect of their business. Not every brand has it as bad as the oil companies, and each brand’s Achilles heel is different.
It’s wise to have a canned response for these types of comments on your page. Work with your legal team to get the key talking points down, and make sure the statement that you craft doesn’t sound too
canned. Always thank the person—no matter how vitriolic his or her comment—for taking the time to post to your page.
With election season in full swing, beware of how your brand positions itself with regard to politics. All I can say is woe be to those brands that advertise in any TV channel whose election coverage could be construed as even slightly critical of Ron Paul. You do not
want his supporters to be your brand’s detractors.
Think like a reporter before you post.
It helps me to ask the following question about every post: If I’m a reporter (or a blogger) and I’m reading this, how would I misconstrue this or take it out of context to make it into a story?
Keep in mind that business reporters love nothing more than to be the first to point out your company’s foibles. Don’t make it easy for them. I’ve deleted some brand replies on Twitter before sending them because I wasn’t 100 percent confident that they couldn’t be misconstrued.
Also, be careful whom you engage on Twitter. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski learned that the hard way
Learn from those who have erred before you. Read up on all those social media mistakes that have snowballed into news stories. Ill-advised tweets
, contentious Facebook interactions
, poor choices in advertising
, and questionable decisions
have all led to social media nightmares for various companies. How they happened (and the company’s response) will give you a good sense of right and wrong in the social sphere.
Take the conversation off your main page, if possible.
As soon as a negative issue starts to look like it could turn the corner into nightmare territory, consider whether a separate presence—away from your main Facebook page—would be a good choice. You don’t want a negative conversation to dominate your page.
When American Airlines was blamed for losing a woman’s cat at JFK Airport, the company received a barrage of Facebook posts on its page from irate pet lovers. The company crafted a response and provided subsequent comments in its notes
section on its Facebook page and directed the conversation there.
The story was certainly a PR nightmare for the company, as the cat eventually had to be euthanized
after it was found. However, their social media team was able to direct the conversation to a more appropriate place.
Discuss responses to as many negative posts as you can think of—it still won’t be enough.
When Eat This Not That tweeted
a negative post about one of the brands I manage, a disturbing number of the account’s nearly 270,000 followers retweeted the post.
For an entire day, we were stuck crafting a response while the conversation was happening around us. We didn’t want to chime in until we were able to verify or refute the tweet. The process got hung up in legal, and by the time we were able to actually address it, the conversation was over. We would have been late to the party with our response—the social media equivalent or ripping off one’s own scab.
We had discussed so many possibilities of things that could pop up in the social sphere, but not this. The lesson there was to be agile and speedy with our responses in the social sphere. Plan for as much as you can—even if you’re just planning how to respond to certain types
In the end, know that issues will pop up that you’re unable to plan for. The best thing to do is move quickly while the conversation is still happening.