Monday, November 21, 2011

Is your business Social Media Catastrophe proof?

If you think you’ve done a great task by just putting your company profile on all the Social Media networks available and have gone a step ahead by asking your employees to join your social profile with a brilliant “icing on the cake strategy” of asking your employees to maintain the content and engagement, Congratulations! You’ve just created & welcomed a Frankenstein with a Red Carpet.

I really wish there was just one great Social Media Network and thereby managing your company’s online reputation would have been much easier. But then we live in a world of cut throat competition where no one wants to have just a Facebook, a Twitter or LinkedIn or rather should I say everybody wants more of better social tools (between lines – more Social Networks will mushroom on the world wide web).

I’m sure we’d all have heard the famous incidents faced by some big brands on the Social Media embarrassment. The most famous amongst them are of the Honda Product Manager Eddie Okubo who was caught AstroTurfing consumer sentiments; or that of Video of Taco Bell that went Viral on YouTube for all wrong reasons of unhygienic practices. All these and many more incidents (do consider the Jasmine Revolutions) show the power of Social Media to bring people together.

Social Media has given consumers a whole new voice. A recent study by Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology found that 20% of Twitter updates are either in form of Product RFI or sentiments on a brand.

While Social Media has infinite potential to do wonders for your business, it also has the potential to cause a catastrophe. Any sentiment shown left unnoticed can prove fatal to your business dynamics. A hazard of social Media is that people will read what you write and from then it goes viral i.e., gets multiplied in its impact by the trail of online wreckage it creates. With that in mind, you might just get a herculean task of not giving your employees, consumers and stake holders anything bad to talk about.

Companies such as Amazon, United Airlines, Pepsi, Honda and Motrin have made mistakes resulting in unprecedented ramifications, thanks to customer feedback & sentiments via social media. Now notice that these are big brands that carry immense credibility in the market, what if such a catastrophe strikes a SMB? Scary, isn’t it?

Brands can stave off a Social Media Catastrophe by being cautious and vigilant by responding swiftly to any sentiments (negative or positive) or online reputation crisis. Some of the tips to insure your business’s online reputation are:
  1. Have a clearly defined Social Media Strategy in place with governing policies and best practices. Getting into something without proper homework, quality & process, review mechanism and exit plan has always been fatal, so this is the first and foremost task on the To-Do list in the Social Media Strategy.
  2. Hire and put the expert at work. It might be lucrative for any employer to have their employees engaged on the company’s social media profiling but this may have its own drawbacks like employee productivity, security, quality checks and crisis management. So it is always advised to hire an Social Media Strategy Agency and outsource the tedious work of your reputation management and brand sentiment or Social media Intelligence.
  3. Fight Social Media Fire with Social Media Fire. Ever noticed that the only way to control a Jungle fire is by having a counter fire on its path. Such is the case as well in Social Media, be it Facebook, Twitter or any other network, always make sure you are in the same medium as your customer/employees/other stake holders.
  4. Context Matters. If you are responding to a tweet, make sure you aren't responding to the final series of tweets, as you could end up looking foolish.
  5. Apologies Matter. If you are going to apologize to your customers, you’d better mean it. This act might sound simple yet is the most powerful way to convert crisis into an opportunity. It helps in repairing the damaged trust and also further acts as an adhesive between the buyer-seller relationships.
  6. Don’t bite the hands that feed you. Don’t mock or belittle your customers. It’s a bad move and the most foolish thing to do on a public channel like a social network.
  7. It matters who steers the ship. It pays to trust your staff, but make sure the person running your social media front has the sensibility and the training that you can rely on. It’s always advisable to give this job of an undertaker to a neutral third party agency that specializes in Social Media Strategy.
  8. Avoid “The Streisand Effect.” Sometime, you are the problem or invariability create the problem. By trying to cover up or mend mistakes, you may be perpetuating them further. Focus efforts on shutting down, not causing the media hype. This is actually an art that can be learnt upon regular practice. 

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