Every digital marketer worth their salt knows the importance of social media. Due to swallow up a quarter of every marketing budget within five years, it is the second-most effective customer retention tactic digital marketers have. One-third of millennials cite social media as their preferred platform for interacting with businesses, and 57 per cent of customers think more highly of businesses they see praised on it.
But social media is tricky. Instantaneous, ineradicable and universal, a slip up on social media can mean permanent brand damage. Can Facebook fails and Twitter troubles be avoided? Yes, if marketers become savvier about the potential dangers and quicker with their responses when trouble arises.
- Accidental Offence
Most company executives don’t need to be told that posting a racist tweet or bigoted Facebook update is both immoral and likely to cause substantial damage to the company brand. Yet many end up snared in the offence trap regardless. They may have underestimated the potential for outrage. They may have mistimed a post so it appeared to mock a current tragedy. They may have jumped on a popular trend without first researching what it was about.
Stopping such incidents requires a shift in the importance businesses’ attach to their social media. Social media can have a strong and irreversible impact on brand image, yet it is often allocated to inexperienced interns or expected to be undertaken in a spare five minutes. It should be given the same importance as other forms of company advertising. A company should decide on the style and ‘voice’ it wants to project and write up guidelines on proper use.
A social media manager should be given adequate time to research the wider context in which any post will be received. As there is a thin line between sensitive and anodyne, they should also have the authority to decide which jokes are appropriate. Scheduling software should be monitored and emotive topics avoided.
Mistakes still happen, so having a damage control protocol in place is important. Delete the offensive post immediately, acknowledge the slip-up and be contrite. Follow the example of DiGorno, who spent hours apologising individually to each social media user who contacted them about their offensive tweet.
- Employee Sabotage
Employee sabotage takes two forms. In the first, disgruntled employees take revenge against their employer on social media. This is bad when it’s from their own account, but much worse when it’s from the company’s. The solution? Treat your staff well. Employees resort to this sort of action when they feel deeply frustrated and powerless. Ensure managers listen to employee grievances and have clear, impartial internal channels that workers can follow for disputes.
Everyone hires a few rotten apples, but creating a positive work culture encourages other staff to rush to their company’s defence when sabotage incidents occur. Employees have more credibility that corporations and thus are more effective at countering their rouge colleague’s claims.
The second form of sabotage is harder to stop because it’s unintentional. An employee may accidentally reveal confidential information or mix up their personal and professional accounts. In these instances, assess the situation before acting. Generally, disciplining the employee isn’t appropriate. Mistakes happen – even the CFO of Twitter isn’t immune. If the post was ‘off brand’ but relatively harmless, emulate the Red Cross and make light of it. Your brand will come across as personable and as having a sense of humour.
Of course, if the post is highly offensive, stricter sanctions are unavoidable, regardless of intent. Having a set company policy on social media use in place gives you the leeway to attribute culpability. As a rule of thumb, never allow anyone access to company social media accounts unless they have either seniority or supervision to hold them to account.
When damage-controlling the offending post, always be transparent with your customer base about what happened and why. Being prompt, apologetic and honest in your clean-up will negate much of their anger.
- Customer Sabotage
One of the best things about social media is how interactive it is. One of the worst things about social media is how interactive it is. Always remember that even a relatively small segment of the online population can quickly overwhelm your accounts with negative content if they so choose.
For this reason, be very careful about encouraging public interaction on social media platforms and avoid it completely if you are in the middle of a PR scandal, or have a vocal opposition to your business practices. You are always more likely to get responses from angry, disgruntled people than neutral or content customers.
Moreover, never underestimate the anarchist tendencies of the internet. Creating a clever chatbot or cute image creator may sound like a positive way to engage with your customers, but it is almost certainly going to end up hijacked by internet trolls.
The lesson is to never, ever relinquish control of anything associated with your brand. Q&A sessions should not be done live, but through private messages so you can select the queries you publicise. Similarly, if you want to run a campaign which is built on customer contributions, only do so if you can retain editorial control of their input.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there’s only one thing worse than negative social media coverage, and that’s no social media coverage. With 3.17 billion users, social media has become part of the fabric of our world. Facebook now influences 52% of online and offline purchases. 64% of Twitter users are more likely to buy a company’s products if they follow them online.
If businesses want to gain new customers and give existing ones the level of attention and personalisation they’ve come to expect, social media is a necessary evil. Give your social media attention, investment, and strategy, and you’ll reap dividends. If you’re slapdash or neglectful, however, don’t be surprised if you end up as the next corporate social media horror story.
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.