It’s easy to see why savvy business owners are so easily lured by the power of social media marketing. It offers the possibility of big returns with almost no capital investment and virtually anyone is able to open an account for free and begin sharing content. Unfortunately, in the hands of an inexperienced business owner, the low startup costs and ease of use may be a recipe for disaster.
How a Social Media Crisis Happens
Whenever you get 2.46 billion people together sharing their opinions, there’s bound to be some conflict and misunderstanding that causes negative ripples across your social profiles. An angry customer could start a Twitter tirade because of an unresolved bad customer experience. Your social media manager might pull a Ted Cruz and accidentally “like” or share an inappropriate post on your timeline. A disgruntled employee could post something unprofessional. Even large corporate accounts have been hacked, resulting in embarrassing, albeit sometimes funny, status updates. Just about anything can ignite a brand bonfire on social media.
It’s critical to understand that Vegas rules don’t apply. While the easiest course of action would be to simply delete the offensive post, there are several reasons this doesn’t work and could even worsen the situation. Once a post has been published, anyone can take a screenshot of your content and share it before you’ve had a chance to correct the error. The juicier your mistake, the more likely it will be turned into a meme and risk viral popularity. If you’ve really bungled things, the error could be picked up by the mainstream news and you’ll have a much more difficult time repairing your reputation.
Deleting an unpleasant post from an upset customer is often an instinctual reaction, but this may escalate the situation and cause a severe backlash. The customer may begin taking screenshots of their posts to prove they are being silenced and this could lead followers to wonder how many other complaints were removed.
How you prepare your team and how you handle the situation as it develops is important, and is likely determine whether or not a social media “incident” becomes a full-blown crisis that will cost you money.
7 Huge Social Media Mistakes to Avoid
#1: Putting the Wrong Person in Charge of Accounts
Handing over the keys to your social media accounts to interns, inexperienced employees, or simply the wrong personality types can cause big problems that cost millions to fix. Hire a social media manager who understands risk, thinks before acting and has public relations experience. Qualified individuals should also be able to identify and handle a crisis. Definitely keep those who are impulsive, quick to anger, or sarcastic away from your social media accounts.
If you don’t want to deal with your social media in-house, consider hiring a firm to handle your accounts for you. You’ll have peace of mind knowing your profiles will be handled professionally and you won’t need to worry as much about oversight.
#2: Not having a Crisis Communication Plan
One of the easiest ways to make a bad situation worse is by not being prepared for it. While you can’t anticipate every crisis, you should at least develop a crisis communication strategy to train your company and social media manager about how to react during an emergency. Even calm employees can make social media mistakes when under stress, so make sure you have a second set of eyes on every post and reply.
Your crisis plan should also clarify who is responsible for posting updates and responding to comments and messages. It’s crucial to build redundancies into your plan because one person may not be able to handle the increased activity across all of your social channels. Invest a few hours of your time training approved team members about how to handle a crisis and get them up to speed. Should a situation ever arise, that time and money will be well spent.
#3: Failing to Monitor for Trouble
Be vigilant at all times for any mentions of your brand, or your competitors, so you can catch potential problems as soon as they arise. Angry customers don’t always directly complain on your social profiles or tag your business. Sometimes they post critical statements of frustration about your brand in their own status updates. These “soft” complaints could go unnoticed by an inexperienced social media manager who isn’t actively using social monitoring to spot issues.
Your team won’t be able to address issues before they escalate if they aren’t aware of these dark complaints, Letting customer experience problems fester because you aren’t paying attention is just as bad as intentionally ignoring them, and the result is often repeated complaints from the same customer who felt ignored, or from others experiencing the same issues.
Fortunately, you don’t have to spend valuable time scouring the social landscape for mentions of your business. There are numerous social monitoring tools available to keep you informed with little effort. So whether you’re running your own accounts or hiring someone, you’ll be able to spot icebergs before they sink your ship.
#4: Failing to Engage with Your Audience
The purpose of social media is to engage in discussions with people, yet far too many businesses make the mistake of only posting promotional content. Social profiles are frequently misunderstood as being sales tools and judged by how many visitors they refer to your website, but they can also be powerful customer service platforms to help you build brand loyalty and handle customer experience issues before they tarnish your reputation.
It’s crucial to respond quickly when your team discovers criticism about your brand. Ignoring complaints sends a message to your followers that you don’t care enough about them to reply, or worse, the complaint is valid and commonplace. Comments on your social profiles are public so every one of your followers can read the thread and see if you respond to problems.
Aside from negative comments, companies can learn a lot from their followers by asking questions, starting polls, and inviting feedback. Wouldn’t it be useful to ask your followers to vote before launching a new color or product? Maybe you’re looking to build a software tool and you want to know all of the features your customers need. Social media is much more useful as a telephone than a megaphone.
#5: Responding to Criticism Unprofessionally
The only thing worse than not responding to negative feedback on social media is responding inappropriately. Properly handling criticism in the public eye is essential to converting a negative brand experience into a positive one and protecting your reputation.
A single rude response to a genuine complaint will be magnified by the number of followers you have, and could even leak out into the mainstream news in a “social media fails” article. Bickering, deleting comments, and blocking users can cause a heated situation to quickly boil over. When handling criticism, be professional, empathetic, and make an effort to understand what caused the situation.
Customers typically use social media as a last resort to lash out at a business and warn other consumers of a problem when they feel their issue is unresolved. Providing your customers with an easy way to voice frustrations on your website may prevent them from airing their dirty laundry on your social channels for others to read.
#6: Misjudging Your Audience
Your social media audience may be different from your general customer base. If you don’t take the time to understand your audience, you run the risk of unintentionally insulting them with the wrong tone, an inappropriate image, or an out-of-context statement. This is often the case for large brands with massive follower counts that span a wide demographic spectrum.
Use social media analytics tools like Facebook Insights to learn who your followers are and what they’re talking about. Doing so can prevent questionable content from unintentionally ruffling feathers and throwing your brand’s reputation into a tailspin.
#7: Not Drafting an Employee Social Media Policy
Most of your employees shouldn’t have access to your social account logins, but they should have guidelines for referencing your brand in their personal posts. People sometimes think they’re safe to vent about workplace grievances and office shenanigans if they aren’t connected with anyone from work on their personal social accounts. But that harmless post could end up tarnishing your business’s reputation if your employees are connected with your customers or members of the media.
Rather than scaring your employees away from talking about your company, encourage them to be vocal but give them guidance about what’s appropriate. Happy employees are some of the best recruiting tools you can ask for, but they can also unintentionally harm your company’s image if they aren’t given any ground rules.
Don’t Fear Failure
With countless brand-crushing memes born from spelling errors, misunderstandings, and fumbled advertising attempts, smaller businesses may be terrified to even use social media. While a large corporation has deep enough pockets to weather a PR nightmare and absorb the resulting revenue losses, a social media mob could spell disaster for a mom-and-pop company.
Intelligently using social media carries far more reward than risk for micro-businesses. If you listen to your followers, react quickly and compassionately when needed, and develop an emergency plan if something does go wrong, you’ll be able to maximize the benefits of this channel while avoiding a potential crisis.
Check out more information on what NOT to do on social media, with this great infographic from Jason Squires.