When two employees at one of the world’s largest pizza chains did some pretty unsavory things to some customers’ food (such as putting nasal mucus on sandwiches) and uploaded the video to YouTube, Domino’s learned a very quick lesson: no company’s brand is safe online. Fortunately, within a couple days of the video rising up the ranks, Domino’s responded aggressively with a stern video from its CEO revealing that the employees had been fired and a warrant was out for their arrest. While you might think that you have the most loyal customers and clients in the world, all it takes is one person with a keyboard, cellphone, or video camera to hurt your reputation. In order to be prepared, there are a few things you can do to survive a social media disaster. Here are tips to steer your keep your online image pointed in the right direction.
1. Listen everywhere. If you don’t actively listen to what people are saying about your brand, a tiny social media incident has the tendency to quickly snowball out of control. Today, it has never been easier to monitor what the online world thinks about your company. With free Google Alerts, which send you instant updates when your brand is mentioned online, or paid monitoring tools such as Radian6, you need to take the listening part of your online marketing strategy seriously. Keep an ear to the digital ground at all times.
2. Respond quickly. A Canadian folk singer, upset that United Airlines damaged his guitar, went online to sing about his bad experience with the airline (United Breaks Guitars). As the video went viral and its star appeared on national TV shows, United was surprisingly quiet (much to their detriment). In short, if bad buzz is spreading, respond quickly to minimize the damage.
3. Kill them with kindness. Although you might want to get into a flame war with someone insulting your brand, the best thing to do is to stay calm and be polite. Definitely respond, but try to keep a friendly tone. When Nestle recently came under fire from environmentalists, the company’s Facebook page became a digital war zone. After the Community Manager posted a few snarky comments in response to the uproar, the online attack escalated. For anyone responsible for social media conversations, don’t let your anger get the best of you.
4. Hire experienced communicators. While interns are great for managing web tools, the person ultimately responsible for your online relationships should have some seniority. This person should know what to do in the event of a crisis, and unlike Nestle’s Community Manager, they need to know how to keep their cool. For many companies social media is often an afterthought, but remember that your online reputation if often mirrored in to the offline world.
5. Have a plan. Follow the above tips to keep your brand on the right track. The easiest way to make sure that you’re ready for any type of digital crisis is to have a plan and fully communicate this plan with the rest of your team. Again, every company has critics, so the best way to minimize the damage to your brand is to learn how to foster relationships with these people and keep the attacks under control.Amber MacArthur is a social media consultant, speaker and author of Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Build Your Business (June 10, 2010 release).