Many business owners often start a social media engagement without a clear strategy for handling bad publicity when it happens. The operative word here is “when” not “if”. Having a plan in place before bad publicity occurs can often make the difference between a public relations nightmare or a marketing hiccup.
In the age of instant communication and viral social media, consumers are no longer passive recipients of corporate advertising and marketing jingles. Consumers now have the capabilities to express and share their satisfaction and displeasure about brands and companies with blinding speed.
Companies that identify customers by ethnic stereotypes or try to impose dubious convenience charges are being exposed to the masses instantaneously. Case in point: Papa John’s Pizza and Verizon‘s recent social media melee were immediately sensationalized over the leading social media networks. In response, Papa John’s announced an immediate apology and dismissal of the liable employee. While Verizon caved under the pressure of social media to implement a new surcharge for customers who pay their bills online. We could also count Bank of America ATM surcharge reversal, but I’ll just concentrate on the two recent episodes
What makes the above two cases interesting is the fact that both companies immediately responded and turned what could have been a major PR crisis into mild customer dissatisfaction. Both companies, Papa John’s and Verizon, realized very quickly they had a real problem that needed immediate attention. But realizing there was a problem is only half of the story. Crafting a measured and well thought-out response is equally important and was something both companies should be commended for.
The response in both cases was quick- within one or two days. This is important because by publicly acknowledging there was a problem it kept the crisis to a manageable pitch. The rapid response also sent a message to customers of both Papa John’s and Verizon that they are listening and trying to understand their customers.
Now without knowing the internal social media management policies of Papa John’s and Verizon I can only assume that they both had a pre-existing strategy for dealing with bad publicity via social media. Though it is feasible that both companies do not have a risk management strategy in place, it is a stretch to imagine they both performed so well, under fire while shooting from the hip.
These two cases illustrate that having a prepared risk management plan for the inevitable unflattering Facebook post or dissatisfied customer tweet can go a long way into turning a major public relations issue into a minor publicity irritate.
It does not matter if you’re a national company that has its own social media management division or a small family owned business managing a few social media channels; there are a few best practices that should be considered when crafting a social media risk management strategy.
These practices include:
- Being vigilant – social media never sleeps, so keeping a watchful eye on how your brand is perceived is vital to catching bad publicity when it occurs;
- Consistency counts – this cannot be emphasized more. Allocating a certain amount of time per day allows you to check for updates and generate posts. Scheduling time for your social media involvement, improves your awareness and engagement of your brand on social media;
- Respond don’t react – when trouble hits, it’s important to evaluate the situation as rationally as possible. Certainly if someone is making disparaging remarks about your brand it will obviously get your blood pumping. But taking a moment to exercise a bit of prudence should ensure you respond in a meaningful, professional matter;
- Have a plan ready – response time can often stop an incident from becoming a full blown PR catastrophe. If details aren’t clear simply acknowledging there was an incident can buy you some time to gather more info. A prompt response that conveys you understand there is a problem is usually better than a detailed press release a week later.
For some SME owners having your finger on the pulse of your social media channels can be time consuming and difficult. If you find that you cannot dedicate the required time to be on up of the social media buzz its best to hire a social media management firm that can handle the job. Being on social media and not saying nothing is worst than not being on it at all.