A disastrous tweet or other social media faux pas can destroy a business in the blink of an eye. One stupid decision could see your company's reputation damaged, perhaps beyond repair.
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Including your social media presence in your risk assessment is a no-brainer, but repairing the damage when things do go wrong will require specialist help.
There is a new opportunity out there for social media experts to specialise in disaster recovery, helping organisations extricate themselves from such events, hopefully without having to throw anyone under the train and get out of it with their professional reputation relatively intact.
Recently we have seen the disastrous results of a prank gone wrong by Australian Radio Station 2DayFM. Had this happened 10 years ago it would have raised a few eyebrows, perhaps been reported briefly by a few newspapers, but it would quickly have faded from our consciousness, almost certainly without the tragic outcome that this event has had.
Prank calls by radio stations have been around for ever. Personally I hate them, I can't listen to them, I feel embarrassed for the call victims - I just don't enjoy have a laugh at someone else's expense.
The life of social networks have meant that these calls live on indefinitely on video and audio postings all over the web, once recorded it is virtually impossible to erase them completely.
This is an extreme case, even without the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha it was causing tidal waves of displeasure through the social sphere. But with the subsequent events the radio hosts involved have reportedly received death threats, the station is in danger of losing its operating license, advertisers have pulled their support and listeners have deserted in their droves. In an attempt to placate the public and give some form of reparation to the Saldahna family, the station is donating all its advertising profits for the rest of this year to a fund to support them - a seven figure sum. The hosts appeared on TV, tearfully apologising for their actions and their part in Ms Saldahna's death...carefully avoiding accepting any legal liability for this event.
There is very little positive spin that can be put on the radio station's part in this tragedy, it may well be that this is an unsurvivable disaster for a station that already had minefields of social disasters to negotiate courtesy of their 'shock jock' Kyle Sandilands.
Other social errors of judgement this year have caused damage to reputations, many taking place during the US electoral campaign with emotions running high and taking over from common sense. One notable tweet with severe reputational consequences was the official KitchenAid tweet account broadcast of a very non-PC dig at President Obama's late grandmother. Even though it was deleted quickly it was too late and it was retweeted and hit millions of twitter feeds in a very short timeframe. I am on the other side of the world and the tweet hit my stream less than 10 minutes after it was first broadcast.
Today's social disaster recovery expert has to be able to think very quickly. Now that we have lost the ability to truly delete anything that has been distributed over social networks what are the options to salvage reputation and save a business when things have gone horribly wrong?
- Obviously, remove what you can...but don't expect to be able to do this very successfully, social networks are just too widespread. A tweet is likely to have been picked up and disseminated via multiple other networks
- Be open and admit that it was a mistake - don't just make excuses
- Don't throw your people under the bus without good reason...really this does not make your organisation look any better
- Treat this like any major incident, find out what systems failed and put steps in place to ensure that they do not break down again
- Take the offending party off social networks temporarily - responding to negative content jut amplifies it
- Don't make any response in the heat of the moment - emotional posts seldom work in your favour
- Do what you can to spread some good news about your brand through your networks if at all possible, but don't just create 'fluffy' stories as this is likely to backfire and make it look like you don't take what has happened seriously
- Know what your social reach is and how far the message has spread. There are a number of reporting engines that can quantify this for you. Understanding just how far the news has travelled will help you to judge how extensive the clean-up campaign will need to be. I suggest looking at tools such as Topsy Pro to get a handle on these statistics
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Now to state the obvious - try not to let this happen in the first place! Make sure that you have robust social media policies in place NOW. Don't wait until something goes wrong. Get expert help in to train your staff and establish a reputable online presence that is managed and controlled. If you don't do this you are running a truly unacceptable risk. Don't underestimate the damage that can be done in 140 characters!
On the other hand, used wisely, social media can enhance your brand, its value and recognition exponentially, but make sure you know what you are doing.