This is a guest blog post from Curtin University’s Reputation Management in a Digital World course team.
When it comes to dealing with social media, even with careful processes and procedures in place, it’s frighteningly easy to become derailed by a perfect storm.
We might do our best to monitor and respond to issues before they blow up on Twitter or Facebook, but what about the events that can’t be predicted? Critical events can be as simple as a mis-tweet or as tragic as the disappearance of an aircraft. They are unplanned, unforeseen and, if badly handled, can start a social media storm that will harm a brand’s reputation faster than the sinking of the Titanic.
Luckily, there are a few strategies that social media managers and communications professionals can adopt to lessen this damage.
1. Establish your social media guidelines
A set of social media guidelines are essential in the digital age and are like a lifejacket: you hope you never have to use them, but boy are you glad they’re there when you need them. Many companies have a communications policy and part of this policy should include crisis management and social media management.
2. Cultivate a loyal customer base
A loyal customer following can help you bounce back from bad press, and they may just come to your defence as they did when Toyota was forced to recall cars in 2010 due to brake problems.
What to Do When a Crisis Hits
3. Alert your internal stakeholders
A crisis has struck and things are starting to look a bit choppy on your social seas. Make sure management knows about the problem so everyone is on the same page and can begin to coordinate a unified response – consistency is critical to maintaining trust.
4. Get the facts (and make sure they’re right)
“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.” – BP CEO Tony Hayward after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Misleading customers can have damaging repercussions, as Hayward found out. BP’s 2010 oil spill was the biggest marine oil spill in history and America’s worst environmental disaster. It cost BP more than US$42 billion and the company was barred from winning new contracts in the Gulf of Mexico. According to The Guardian, Hayward left BP after bowing to pressure over his (mis)handling of the crisis.
5. Respond, and respond quickly
While 64% of consumers on Twitter expect a response within an hour, delaying a response in order to get your ducks in a row can sometimes be the best course of action – especially if the crisis is serious. But don’t delay too long. The longer you take to respond, the more the crisis can escalate– as Singapore transport company, SMRT Corporation, discovered .
Tip: Tailor your response to each of the channels you publish to. Pushing a blanket press release across your entire social presence is not only lazy, but shows a lack of sincerity and the Internet will eat you alive for it.
6. Monitor and communicate regularly (but don’t feed the trolls)
Listen to your customers’ concerns and reply to them personally. Cookie-cutter replies like “Thank you for your feedback” can often make frustrated people even more frustrated. Speaking of cookies, definitely don’t antagonise your customers as Amy’s Baking Company Bakery Boutique & Bistro did.
7. Be human and learn from your mistakes
Apologise and show compassion, concern and commitment to change. Honesty and sincerity go a long way.
Feeling confident? No? That’s OK.
Each day, there are reportedly 2.1 million negative social mentions about brands in the U.S. alone. If reading this makes you feel out of your depth – and the idea of handling a social media crisis has you looking for a lifebuoy – you are not alone. The good news is that MOOCs like Reputation Management in a Digital World and courses are springing up to give you the skills and know-how to manage brand reputation in a time of crisis. So you might not be confident now, but soon can be.