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5 ways to weather a social media storm

5 ways to weather a social media storm Kate Cooper

Social media offers brands and organisations an incredibly effective channel through which to directly engage with their customers. However, having public dialogue isn’t without risk and if events dictate, these conversations can easily be hijacked by customers looking to vent their frustrations and negative experiences.


When brands are caught in the eye of an online negative PR storm, it quickly becomes apparently whether they have a joined-up, multi-departmental social strategy in place. Without one a situation can quickly snowball into a brand damaging media fiasco. But what measures can brands put in place to ensure they are best positioned to weather a social media storm? 


In essence, it’s not just about doing social but actually about being social throughout your organisation, so here are five ways to effectively manage your online reputation, especially at a time of crisis:


1.      Embed a listening culture


While many businesses now use social media to listen to what customers are saying about their brand or products online, but how many have embedded a listening culture throughout their organisation?


It’s important that an entire organisation connects with its consumers in a meaningful and impactful way. This can be achieved by giving key employees (if not all employees) direct access to a live feed of customer comments through social media or setting up a tweetwall on a plasma screen in the canteen.


2.     Adopt a multi-department strategy culturally and structurally


Successful management of social media requires more than just marketing or PR being involved. You need to connect sales, customer service, product planning and development to truly leverage the benefits whilst also be well prepared to mitigate the risks. This may require you to take a look at your business structure, blur or rethink the boundaries that exist between departments and empower them to pro-actively use social media to connect, collaborate and transparently solve issues.


3.  Have a crisis management plan in place


 One way to start connecting departments is by pro-actively planning for a crisis scenario by having a crisis management plan in place. This should include:


• A definition of different levels of social media crisis. In your industry what constitutes a high enough volume of mentions to be cause for concern?


• Threshold alerts which alert stakeholders from multiple departments when volume or sentiment of mentions reach a certain critical point. This can be set up via your listening tool in the form of email alerts.


• A plan for how to manage an escalation in the situation from an amber warning, which may simply require ongoing monitoring to a red alert, which requires a more proactive response.


4.    Use social technology to workflow and manage customer comments


There are a variety of tools which can be used to connect stakeholders across departments (and geographical locations) to instantaneously activate an appropriate and pre-defined response to an escalating online crisis situation. Engagement tools like Spredfast have a workflow functionality which means tasks can be delegated to the most appropriate person within the business to deal with a consumer question or query.


5.     Encourage your c-level executives to speak on behalf of your the company


If a crisis escalates to become a ‘red alert,’ you need to prepare your senior management team for their role in your company response. It is always powerful to see a fast and ‘in-touch’ response from a senior business leader to an evolving crisis. It shows a company who is in touch with what is happening in the consumer base and is able to respond sensitively and with agility. So, whether it’s a video message posted on YouTube or a Tweet from their personal Twitter account, a response from your CEO will inevitably go a long way to dampening the heat from an online crisis.

Kate is MD of London and Brighton-based social media agency Bloom. The firm counts Toyota, Bupa and RBS among its clients.

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