5 Steps for Successful Social Media Damage Control

This post, from Sharlyn Lauby, originally appeared on Mashable on 7/9/09. While it’s primarily aimed at companies, much of the advice here is just as useful to an individual, or group blog, that’s run into some social media trouble.

I spent many years of my career in the hospitality business and the first rule of thumb when dealing with customers was, “if a guest had a positive experience, they’ll tell 3 people and if they had a negative experience, they’ll tell 10.” That same idea holds true in the new media world, except the numbers have grown exponentially. Instead of it being 3 people – it’s 3,000, or instead of 10 – it’s perhaps 100,000. The numbers aren’t meant to scare you. But what should you do when something goes wrong?

Our goal, of course, hasn’t changed – work to increase the number of positive comments written about your company, product, or service and take care of those who have negative experiences. But, how do you make that happen in the social media world? What steps to you take to keep negative social media damage to a minimum?

Minimize the damage

Before we even talk about how to fix what goes wrong, let’s talk about the positives. One of the best ways to minimize social media damage is to proactively create an environment that encourages positive feedback. There are two main things you should do to keep the accolades coming.

1. Foster a positive culture. There are plenty of studies showing that if your employees are happy, they will deliver good service to customers. Not only does this minimize potential damage, but it leverages your brand in a very positive way. Keeping your employees engaged and letting them know how they fit into the corporate culture goes a long way.

Case in point: I recently returned from a conference in New Orleans where Harvard Professor John Kotter showed us an old video of a Roto Rooter employee who had pimped out his van to make his job easier. It had everything from pull down maps (obviously this dated prior to the Garmin) to a makeshift toilet. The point is, this employee created all of these conveniences for himself so he could spend more time servicing customers. How many of your employees are doing that?

2. Train employees on the proper use of social media tools. Your employees represent your organization, and if they have a solid, credible personal brand, it will carry over to the company’s image.

It’s not enough to allow employees to have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Organizations need to show employees the proper way to use them. For example, Zappos employees are not only encouraged to have Twitter accounts, but they receive training during company orientation on how to use the application. Again, if your employees use social media well, it will benefit both those employees and the organization.

Keep in mind, however, that someday the other shoe might drop. Many companies have fallen prey to negative press, so don’t put your head in the sand. It’s not about “if” something will happen; it’s about “when.” In this transparent, authentic and real-time world, expect a hiccup to occur. But be prepared.

In the end, the issue is less about the mistake that was made, but the reaction that came after. So, here are some tips to follow if you find yourself in a damage control mode.

1. Monitor social media sites 24/7

Daniel Ruby, director of marketing at advertising network Chitika, recently had an issue where McAfee flagged one of their ads, thus making their entire network have issues with aggressive McAfee antivirus alerts. Ruby credits Twitter for alerting them to the issue. “We actually found out from one of our publishers who was telling a reader via Twitter, as well as the comments box on his site, that our ads were…giving McAfee users a red flag,” he said.

From there, Chitika could respond to concerned users (also via Twitter), and keep users up-to-date on the steps they were taking to fix the problem.


chitika tweet image



2. Respond quickly with a consistent message

No matter how proactive you are, customers will start to question your organization when they see problems. And, whenever there is an information void, those customers will tend to fill in the gaps with their own thoughts on what the cause may be. That’s why it is important to respond to issues quickly, even if the message is just, “we’re looking into it.”

Ruby elaborated that he “reached out to the publisher via his comments box, letting him know what happened and what Chitika was doing to resolve it.” He also kept him updated via Twitter (apologizing as profusely as one can in 140 characters).

Communication is key here. Make sure each employee knows the same message all the way down the chain of command. And, when that message changes, don’t forget to communicate those changes. This serves two purposes; (1) it gives the public a sense that you have your arms around the issue; and (2) it gives your employees a sense of unity – working together to solve a common problem.

Read the rest of the post, including steps #3-5, on Mashable.