• author
    • Will Ockenden

    • May 1, 2014 in Opinion

    Getting it right first time: 9 ways to manage an online crisis

    Building and protecting your company’s reputation is incredibly important, we all know that.  Unfortunately, the rise in social media and the so-called ‘citizen journalist’ has meant that any negative customer experiences – no matter how minor they might be – now have the potential to travel far and wide, as they are tweeted, posted and shared online.

    crash-215512_1280I don’t want to scare you, but the truth is what might have once been confined to a conversation among a few people in a pub, can now spread half way across the world before you know it.  No matter how great your business is, chances are at some stage you’ll be facing some kind of crisis, and that means you need to be prepared to manage the fallout online.

    The good news is, with the right, often common-sense approach, most crises can be effectively managed online, if not resolved completely, and you don’t’ need to be a social media ninja to get it right. Here’s my guide to the essential steps to protecting your reputation online, and avoiding an online crisis.

    1. Planning is everything – think about the kind of scenarios you could face as a company (unhappy customers, product recall, redundancies, whatever it might be) and create a simple crisis plan, including pre-written statements to post on your social networks as and when required. Always make sure you are clear on who in your company is doing what, including monitoring your channels for questions or comments that might come in.

    2. It’s always worth creating a clear ‘terms of use policy’ for your own social media channels. That means laying out guidelines into how people can and can’t behave across your own networks. Make sure you post it in your ‘About Us’ section of your Facebook profile. If anyone breaches it – by swearing on your page, for example – then you’ve got every right to remove them from the conversation, or even ban them from your page altogether.

    3. If you face a crisis, then it’s always a great idea to track what’s being said about your brand on Twitter, even going as far as having a dedicated ‘Twitter wall’ screen, streaming all the comments. This will help as an early warning system, as often what appears on Twitter will become a bigger story an hour or so later, either online, or in the press.

    4. If your blog or social channels are being overrun with negative comments, a good way to tackle this is to change your pages in the admin section to only allow approved comments. On Facebook you can even limit certain inflammatory words meaning anyone using them will not appear on your page.  Turning off the ability for everyone to comment gives you back a small element of control. After all, these are your spaces, so try and control them.

    5. Always listen to what people are saying, but you don’t need to engage everybody. If there’s misinformation then correct it, but never get involved in arguments – you will never win as consumers always favour the underdog. It’s a bit like joining in every argument you ever hear in the pub – unless you’re a sociopath, you just wouldn’t do it. Brands should be the same.

    6. If your company has done something wrong, then holding your hands up and apologising goes a long way. Not like the Australian jeans retailer, GASP, who’s petulant response to a customer complaint went viral, and resulted in an anti-GASP Facebook group being established. The group is still active and GASP doesn’t appear to have done too much about it.

    7. Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for unhappy customers to set up websites using your company name, for example, http://www.ihatestarbucks.com. One way round this is to scoop up those negative domain and user names! Use a free tool such as http://namechk.com/  to check which names are available. Make sure your team have registered as many of these as possible.

    8. Don’t be afraid of the #hashtag! If a crisis does actually go viral, using a crisis #hashtag can create a genuine opportunity. If all of the conversations are using it you may as well use it. If you use the #hashtag to reply you will reach more people and you can start to steer the conversation and make your voice heard.

    Phew! Did you get all that? When your crisis has finally abated (don’t worry, it will) it’s really important to evaluate and analyse your own handling of it, and consider any key changes in procedure. Could you have been quicker in your response, clearer in your communication? Good luck!

    Image used under Public Domain CCL via Gerlalt.