One tiny Social Media gaffe can seriously hurt all kinds of brands, even those who seem strong and stable. There’s nothing worse than facing a PR disaster and having to apologize to lots of enraged customers. One little mistake might drag behind your brand for years – that is, unless you do everything you can to prevent it from happening in the first place. The best strategy is developing a strict social media policy with a set of standards ensuring a smooth operation of your company’s public channels. Here are some tips to help you build your policy and limit the probability of a real PR disaster.
1. Develop the basics
You cannot set out to build you social media policy without a clear understanding of your main marketing goals. You should know which platforms you’ll use, with what kind of tools you’ll manage your accounts and what kind of content you’ll be sharing. Your policy should fit the general marketing strategy and support realizing your key goals.
Once you’re done with that, you should consider the practical side of your policy. You need to decide how it will respond to key changes in your sector and what methods you’ll use to reinforce it across the entire organization. All employees should know about it – even those who will never post on your channels. People responsible for your profiles should receive information packages written in a clear and concise way – who has the time to read a lengthy manual?
Your every move on social media must be regulated in the policy. Here’s what can happen if you fail to recognize a problem and react to it in a way that only makes it worse. Duggars recently launched a campaign where it invited married couples to share photos of themselves while kissing on thier official Facebook page. Unfortunately, some users in sex-same marriages who submitted their photos had their contributions removed – here’s an example. (Facebook: John Becker) This proved to be a very bad move for the brand, which transformed what could pass as a small misunderstanding into a real drama.
2. Choose the speakers for your brand
Your policy should delineate features of employees who can be considered as potential speakers for your brand. Access to your accounts should be regulated and people authorized for posting on the behalf of your organization specified. All restrictions to that authorization (by team or region) should be included as well.
Remember that just because an employee is talented in digital marketing, it doesn’t automatically make them an ideal speaker for your brand. If you spot some extreme political opinions, consider them a warning sign about a potential problem and a source for a PR disaster.
The same goes for the choices of agencies which will take care of your social media channels. The Victorian Taxi Association was recently forced to fire their agency after the disaster of #YourTaxi campaign. They invited users to share their feedback on riding in Victorian taxis, but instead of positive narratives, the company faced heaps of negative stories recounting sexual, physical and verbal abuse. Needless to say, the agency made a real mess out of it. (http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/nov/13/agency-behind-yourtaxis-campaign-fired-after-social-media-disaster)
3. Offer suggestions on how to respond on social media
This is probably the most important part of your social media policy. It should provide guidance to your social media managers about handling the interactions between your brand and the audience. Offer different base scenarios for these exchanges and prepare your employees to deal with various responses, both positive and negative ones. Develop a clear procedure for responding – your managers will be grateful for it when having to address to a negative comment in record time.
Crisis management is something you’ll learn over time, and your policy will adjust to serve your target audience. A good example of how to handle problematic content is this scenario from JCPenney. One time a Reddit user posted a comment about JC Penney’s new teapot, which he deemed resembled the face of Adolf Hitler. Once The Telegraph ran an entire story about it, the brand was forced to deal with the problem. They responded with some lighthearted messages and even poked fun at themselves, showing that they value feedback from consumers. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10084348/Kettle-that-looks-like-Hitler-brews-trouble-for-JCPenney.html)
4. Sketch a definition of a social media crisis
What is a social media crisis? It can mean different things, depending on the brand, industry and context. Over time, you’ll be able to define what it means to your brand and offer a scenario for each crisis variety to limit its negative impact. These regulations should be part of your social media policy.
How to develop an idea about what is a social media crisis in your sector? Start with monitoring brands in your industry to see what they’re dealing with. Unfortunately, the single best source of knowledge in this area are your own mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make them – they’ll eventually help you to learn which strategies work best for your audience.
Brands which plan to organize campaigns with special hashtags should learn from the experience of other companies. An example of a hashtag gone wrong is the Mets’ #ImAMetsFanBecause used on Twitter to motivate users in creating their own content and boosting the brand’s visibility online. Instead, consumers used the hashtag to express their emotions about the team, ranging from somber and heartbreaking to downright hilarious. (https://storify.com/NYPStaff/imametsfanbecause)
5. Define employee involvement
Your social media policy should cover the question of employee involvement as well. Make sure that all employees have sufficient knowledge about the role of social media in branding. Decide whether to allow your employees to act as representatives of your brand online. If so, offers some rules to follow when posting to minimize the probability of a PR disaster.
Brands should pay close attention to what their staff is doing on social media. A recent gaffe came from Twitter’s own CFO, Anthony Noto who tweeted a message that was probably private and told everyone about Twitter’s plans for acquiring an app called Shots. And we bet that no brand would like to have their business strategy out in the open for everyone to see. (http://uk.businessinsider.com/anthony-noto-twitter-cfo-dm-fail-2014-11)
6. Benefit from social listening and analytics
Every effective social media policy should offer guidance for social listening and monitoring. Monitoring what’s happening to your brand online is crucial to quickly respond in case someone leaves a negative comment. The longer you wait, the more will spread the public awareness of your misstep. A web event can gather steam in a matter of minutes, so expect a gaffe to soon slip out of your control.
This is an example you should take as a warning. US Airways sent a very inappropriate response to a customer complaint on Twitter and left it there for an entire hour. Needless to say, they stood no chance against the public who quickly picked up the news. In the end, the embarrassing screenshot made headlines all over the internet. (http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/us-airways-just-tweeted-out-one-of-the-most-graphic-things-y)
Why does quick reaction matter? Here’s a story demonstrating its value. DiGiorno Pizza used the hashtag #WhyIStayed in a tweet promoting its products. Jumping on this hashtag, the brand had no idea about its intention – in fact, it was used to talk about the problem of domestic violence. DiGiorno quickly deleted the tweet and apologized to their followers, explaining the misunderstanding.
A clear and strict social media policy will protect your brand from terrible social media gaffes and ensure that people responsible for running your communication channels know how to handle social media interactions with consumers to your benefit.
About the author:
Carol Williams is part of the team behind Florida Oranges – a fruit shipping company headqurtered in Florida. She combines her know-how in PR with her zeal for writing.