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How to prepare for a social media thrashing

David Vap
How to prepare for a social media thrashing David Vap

It is no secret that social channels have become critical platforms as they provide marketers instant access to communicate with customers or communities.

However, the flipside of this immediate communication is that consumers are empowered to magnify their opinions online -- particularly complaints.

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As a result, marketers can find themselves confronting "brandjacking." And what do we mean by brandjacking? Simply stated, an explosion of conversations, negative online opinions, and sentiment geared towards a brand communicated through social media that tarnish organizations' reputations. This is an increasingly normal occurrence that marketers must be prepared to address, so they do not lose control of their brand in social channels.

Recent social flare-ups have implicated brands like GAP Inc. and their short-lived new logo, Kenneth Cole's Tweet tying fashion to Egyptian unrest, United Airlines breaking Dave Carroll's guitar, and even a Red Cross employee inadvertently sharing plans to get "slizzard."

What is surprising, however, is that in 2010, according to Gartner, only 5 percent of marketers sought to take advantage of social, collaborative software to improve service and marketing processes -- software that directly helps address and control brand-jacking situations. And overall, according to a recent estimate by eMarketer, 80 percent of companies with 100 or more employees will use social media marketing in 2011, so four out of five companies are indeed active with social media.

The threat of brandjacking has made it imperative to implement the proper social tools and effective outbound communications efforts to help combat negative opinion tarnishing a brand online. With respect to effective communications, there are five critical steps for marketers to prepare for a potential brandjacking crisis.

To start, an understanding of the organization is crucial. Marketers must review the corporate culture and all external communication processes and social capabilities. Scenario planning is an extremely handy tool to initiate this process with the key question being: How to respond if a vocal customer complaint suddenly went viral?

Secondly, marketers must generate a new social mindset within the organization -- one that's characterized by transparency, accountability, and employee empowerment. While technology is a crucial component of dealing with crisis communication, preparing processes and practices must come first.

The third step is to simply know the consumer. Serve as a "listener" in social conversations and respond and employ proactive social support as needed: Address issues before they grow out of control. Also, identify key brand advocates who will be there to provide invaluable support in the event of a crisis.

Once these steps are achieved, form a cross-functional social crisis team that includes a social media manager, a product owner, and at least one executive sponsor. Clarify roles for each team member and create an internal collaboration space for the team. A successful social strategy must cross the boundaries of department and hierarchy because consumers expect a seamless experience.

Once this foundation has been laid, the last step is rolling out a social crisis communications plan -- a playbook with guidelines. Define an escalation process for potential PR issues and build feedback into every step so you can quickly adapt to any situation.

To stay ahead of brandjacking, it is vital for marketers to think through three areas -- process and culture, that is, what and who needs to change. Technologies should be kept in mind also; the tools that are needed to manage social channels; key metrics; and what to track to understand the performance of a brands' presence online. Marketers who put these steps into place will ensure they set themselves up for success to utilize social channels to positively communicate with customers and communities rather than stamping out social flare-ups.

David Vap is chief solution officer at RightNow Technologies.

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Nick Stamoulis

2011, June 20

The power of social media lies in it's instantaneous nature. Sure, there may be a lot of noise and clutter to contend with, but any message from any company can spread like wildfire if someone notices. Even if the brand were to remove the offensive Tweet/post, it's too late. You have to be proactive!