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Does your company have a crisis plan for social media?

Sooner or later you may unleash a Social Media Fail. Pre-plan! A comprehensive social media guideline for your organization can prevent social media mishaps

Sooner or later you may unleash a social media FAIL. Pre-plan! A comprehensive social media guideline for your organization can prevent social media mishaps! Image source: sketchport.com

We’ve all seen it happen. A post too quickly made without review goes out, causing some level of embarrassment. An inept political statement, a rogue or angry employee outburst, a mistake by a new intern, any post ill-timed or in bad taste, a joke that wasn’t funny, a negative news story about your business or personnel. There are hundreds of examples – but BuzzFeed showcased 19 of notable social media fails.

What do you do when bad news goes viral? Don’t ignore it.

We are human beings. It can happen. Try to prevent it of course, and respond wisely when it occurs.

Create a plan by sitting down with your organizational leaders and conceptualize all worst possible scenarios, however unlikely, that could arise and be expressed on social media. This might include:

1. Employee misconduct or criminal activity
2. Bad customer reviews
3. Video exposé or revelation
4. Traditional media story that sheds controversy or unfavorable light on business or industry (direct or indirect)
5. Employee or past employee anger, vendetta
6. Unauthorized access to social media accounts;hacking
7. Offensive photo or content on website
8. Intern new-employee error. Inappropriate or opinionated posts by inadequately trained staff
9. Politically incorrect statements when neutrality is a prized position
10. Inappropriate statements on religion or politics
11. inappropriate sexual content
12. Mistakes with images
13. Appearing to profit from or capitalize on a tragedy or other’s misfortune

Can you think of any others?

First meet with your organization’s leaders and draft a written procedure – an official social media guideline document which clearly states your company’s mission, voice and tone regarding social communication. The document should contain a matrix or clear hierarchy pointing to a specific person or team to directly respond.  Social media experts point out that the most successful responses to social snafus are those that quickly deal with the damage in a direct and transparent way. There is nothing wrong with a good, healthy mea culpa and then move on. Identify who will do the speaking. Who will phrase the response?

Consider developing a response script or template for any given “what if” situation as a best practice. At what level does a social media manager act, and at what level does the permission for the communication need to be pushed up the chain of command? It is important that the social media manager, if there is such a person, clearly knows his or her role.  Everyone involved in social media communications should be familiar with these procedures and who should be contacted for response. What is the role of the general employee? Should they comment? They might be prodded to weigh in. Do you want that?

A social media policy should state expectations of language and vernacular as well as tone or voice.  Not using expletives for most is common sense. But what if a post says something “sucks”? Wouldn’t “disappointing” be a better word choice? Problems often enter when there are too many hands stirring the social media soup to begin with. Multiple contributors (therefore multiple voices and chances for mistakes) could be ameliorated by creating a social media portal (web form or email) where content is submitted and vetted by experienced managers before publication.

Are there restrictions for what employees say about company on their own time and on their own accounts? It is wise to address this issue in the social media guidelines. Have a clear policy on political and religious statements made in the context of your organization. Any social media guideline policy, as it nears completing should be vetted by the organization’s legal counsel.

For Consideration:

Who owns the social media handle? Does the handle stay with the company or does it travel with the employee? Whose email is attached to the social media account? This needs to be stated implicitly.

Review password access anytime there is a change in personnel (planned or unplanned). Passwords should be a combination of alpha, numeric and symbols. Limit the number of people who have access to social media accounts.

Take a screen shot of any offending post to archive for your records and then delete. If an egregious mistake has been made, there is no reason for it to linger and continue to attract attention. Deleting the offending post does not make it go away however. It has likely been seen, screenshots taken, etc. You may need to address the infraction publicly.

Respond quickly to a crisis. Do not delete negative comments by the public unless they contain expletives or is obvious spam. Companies build their brand by how they respond to negative situations. A negative incident can turn into a time to shine.

Address unhappy customers online immediately, apologize for the experience they are having and arrange to discuss further offline. When settled satisfactorily, politely ask (not demand) that customer follows up with another, more positive comment.

Self-effacing humor can do wonders to eradicate a smaller errors. Did a Tweet go out with bad spelling? Has it been retweeted before it was discovered and deleted? Comment, mention Monday mornings, not enough coffee, “all thumbs” and move on. We all have those days.

Require that all employees/volunteers who have social media access to your organizations accounts, fully read and sign the social media policy. Social media changes rapidly. Review company social guidelines every six months.

Image: sketchport.com.