An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure for your Online Reputation

Ounce of PreventionEveryone seems to be talking about Facebook, Twitter or tweeting or, Blogs, LinkedIn et. al. and many people claim to be using these tools for their businesses.

How is that possible? Don’t people have PR Agencies, Marketing departments and regulations on who can represent a brand? Those rules are in place for a reason, right?

Those people and departments are professionally trained on how to talk about your company and now Joe from Accounting wants to Tweet about his company. That can’t be good.

Relinquishing the Content Control

Some companies are all for letting their employees create content for the brand.  Some… are really not comfortable with that. Those who are not ready to release the reigns have their reasons.

What do you do to fix a social media meltdown?

Well… something happened. Good old Joe from Accounting was upset, he had a really rough day and someone on Twitter pushed his buttons… you don’t need the gory details but we need to fix this fast. Now what?

Figure out what happened – There are 17 sides to every story. Before making rash statements or actions figure out what happened. You don’t want to have to apologize for your apology.

Take responsibility and apologize – No one likes their dirt just shoved under a carpet. Admit the fault publicly or privately depending on the situation. An apology can do so much. The internet is powered by humans and all humans make mistakes. We expect a lot from the people we know, like, and trust, but they are human.

Take the appropriate action to remedy – Is an apology and taking responsibility enough? Should an account be suspended? A blog deleted? A follow up blog explaining the situation? That is up to you to figure out.

Take if offline – Text based messages have no tone (unless you count emoticons). Faceless crimes are easy to let linger. Just because the incident happened online doesn’t mean the rest of your rocky relationship needs to stay online. Pick up the phone. Meet someone in person to talk.

How to avoid a social media nightmare

Mistakes happen but there are things you can do to do your best to prevent a social media nightmare.

Set company policies BEFORE you do anything – Policies provide structure. Protect you and your brand by setting boundaries. Put somewhere in writing (your website, wiki, employee manual etc.) what you as a company will and will not do online, what your employees can and cannot do online and what members of the public can and cannot do with your content online. Policies may not seem as fun but they really do set boundaries and even can empower your employees by highlighting what they can do to be a part of your communication strategy.

Think before you tweet – Think of each piece of your content, whether it be a tweet, blog, Facebook update etc., as a mini marketing message, not just assorted ramblings. Does this give value to your customers? If you have to think twice about sending something out, I would just leave it on the cutting room floor. Better to be safe then sorry.

Appoint employees who you trust to represent you in your online space – I get nervous when I hear about unpaid interns maintaining an organization’s social media strategy (I also get nervous when I hear about ghostwriters producing content for your company). What will happen when those people move on? You want your online voice to echo the values and voice of your brand. You should try to keep that as consistent as possible.

Appoint employees who understand and are enthusiastic about this online space – Perhaps the employee on your staff who ‘gets’ Twitter the most and has already used it isn’t on your marketing/PR team. Perhaps one of your best bloggers isn’t either. Using these tools will be easier for someone who is familiar with them and who understands each one of these arena’s particular style of communicating. Sometimes traditional marketers feel challenged creating content for these spaces – it is a different style of communicating then they are used to dealing with.

Creating a plan and having those tough discussions early on (if not before) in your social media strategy could save you a whole lot of trouble later. I also recommend feeling comfortable approaching your lawyer about being a part of these discussions. Having a plan in place is much easier then playing defense with your social media strategy!