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6 tips for managing a social media crisis

Social media campaigns, especially if they are interactive and allows users to post their own content, are fun and good for brand-building.

But they also open up opportunities for posts that hurt brand image and which could easily go viral.

Lorna Lennon, managing director of boutique crisis consultancy Bailiwick, shares six top tips on how to prevent and manage crises in a social media campaign.

Since 2002, her consultancy has been advising clients in luxury retail, logistics, industry, healthcare and finance in Hong Kong and Paris.

1. Develop a contingency plan before you launch the campaign.

Before creating, say, a Facebook contest, brands need to consider what could happen, who could post inflammatory content and why.

“Marketers and their PR consultants need to prepare a contingency plan, which includes stakeholder mapping, clear message strategy, on-hand trained spokesperson,” said Lennon.

2. Avoid posting content that puts the brand on a pedestal without being able to back it up.

“Setting a brand on a pedestal unless squeaky clean is an open invitation for criticism,” said Lennon.

This applies particularly to social media pages managed in the long run with regular posts.

One example is publicizing sustainable production methods on social media that could be easily disproved by an NGO.

Lennon said, “Environmentalists, animal rights groups, anti-abortionists, for instance, snowball Facebook pages to divert attention to their agenda.”

The quality of a company’s internal communications could also come into play.  If a company posts best practices that a union or group of employees could refute, or unrealistic corporate values seen as untrue by current or former employees, that could spark a crisis too.

 3. Establish a set of clear house rules and stand by them.

“A brand needs clear house rules on acceptable content and conduct. Then, moderate. House rules should also cover discriminatory content. If discriminatory content is posted, the brand can pull the commentary because the user is not respecting its house rules,” said Lennon.

In the case of grey areas, where it’s unclear whether a post adheres to house rules or not, Lennon says brand protection is the bottom line.

4. If a campaign spirals out of control, base decision-making on real-time social media monitoring.

Monitor social media for the number of comments, real-time sentiments, profiling and geographic and social media spread.

Lennon said, “As a result, the team can determine how to handle the incident and reach out to engage, side-track, divert or pull a campaign.”

5. When responding to undesirable posts, avoid blatantly lying, mounting a high horse or threatening legal action.

“Google never forgets and years later, with a few search words, an issue can re-surface,” said Lennon.

But reaching out to provide an apology or using a self-depreciative, wry sense of humour could help appease those using social media to vent grievances about the brand.

 6. Prepare by learning from previous examples of crisis management by competitors or other brands in the same sector.

Lennon said, “Social media monitoring is a must to quickly pick up early warning signals and should include monitoring a brand’s peers and their handling of sensitive issues.”

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