When Social Media Bites Back

Developing brand backlash & crisis communication strategy

When hostile social media users hijack a feed or splash a wall with vitriolic criticism, it can cause panic. Recently a friend of mine working as a social media consultant had her client delete a Facebook page and lock down a public Twitter feed because of an aggressive angry user—to everyone’s disappointment. It may not be possible to avoid public displays of negativity from online users, but there are some ideas about how to handle it and minimize reputation damage.

Of course when someone posts “unfavorable, inappropriate or offensive” comments on your branded channel you won’t even know about it unless you have an active listening strategy in effect, Leslie White reminds us. As Chris Brogan famously observed, careful social media management requires us to “grow bigger ears.” There are many free tools to help businesses and organizations listen to customer feedback.

One idea is to put into place some guidelines for participation on social media platforms that can be used as crisis communications strategy. I went searching for some examples of social media guidelines and policies on Facebook pages. Here is a simple and effective one I found by Toys R Us that resides on their landing page:

“The”R”Us Facebook page is a community for our fans and customers to actively engage with “R”Us and each other. It’s not the place for anything inappropriate or offensive. In line with the Facebook Terms of Service, we will review all comments and remove any that are in violation of these terms. If you have any customer service issue, we recommend you contact our customer service number: Toys”R”US: 1-800-869-7787 Babies”R”Us 1-888-222-9787. “

By planning in advance how to engage with unhappy users, “you can begin to think about possible responses, about best case/worst case scenarios,” advises Jonathan L. Bernstein. It is far better to do this as a team, in calm times, rather than waiting until you are “under the pressure of an actual crisis,” Bernstein warns.

The next step is staff preparedness: “tell the staff how and to whom to report a potential problem,” and assign someone (or a team) to be first responders, advises Jeffrey L. Cohen. This was exactly what went wrong over at Nestle, when a staff member took it upon themselves to snap sarcastically at fans and delete their wall posts, setting off a major brand backlash.

Design some holding responses in advance (including tweet-sized 140 character responses with URLs pointing to your webpage), and after the initial public statement, “know when to take conversations off-line” according to Cohen. These responses to angry clients could include video, in order to deliver a human message, as is occurring now over at Procter & Gamble Co. The Pampers brand has incited some brand backlash and the crisis communications response team has mobilized swiftly to engage critics, influencers, and the media. As part of that effort to communicate and respond to unhappy parents, Ad Age reports that P&G has produced “video statements from pediatricians and pediatric dermatologists” with experts’ statements in support of the Pampers brand.

Ogilvy advises brands and organizations to “create and optimize a variety of multimedia content to help tell your story in multiple ways,” during good times and in preparation for cross-platform quick crisis communication during difficult times.

Thank you to @PattiMinglin who tweeted out the AdAge article on P&G

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About Sidneyeve Matrix

Professor, blogger, trendwatcher. I share research & news about digital culture & commerce on Google+, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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