How to Avoid a Social Media Marketing Disaster | Aliza Sherman Risdahl

Social Media Marketing lets you connect and interact with your customers in ways marketers never imagined 20 years ago.
With Social Media, individual consumers now have the power to talk back to companies and they have an expectation to be heard.
Social Media Marketing is not meant to be like traditional marketing and advertising where companies broadcast their messages to consumers, a one-way conversation.

Social Media has changed the way companies market their products and services. Social Media Marketing involves connecting and engaging – interacting with customers in a more direct and timely manner.
As a company, you want to use Social Media as tools to:

  1. Attract attention
  2. Get a reaction
  3. Encourage interaction
  4. Lead to an action

But engagement takes time to happen and requires a lot of time and attention.
Today’s customer expects you to be paying attention and expects a fast response.
Today’s customer now has their own audience who pay attention to them and what they have to say.

When a customer is happy with your company, they have the ability to give you a good review or post compliments about you to their own social networks.
But what if they are unhappy with you?
If you engage in social media marketing, you know how fast information travels in social networks. Good news travels fast, but bad news travels faster.

What if someone says something bad about you or your company? How should you handle this?
And what if it turns into a social media crisis?
The most important thing you can do today is to make a plan for how you’ll avoid a social media disaster. Advance planning is your first line step to guard against a crisis.
Set up multiple ways to monitor what is being said about your company – good and bad.
Use tools like Google Alerts, Talkwalker and Mention.com to search social networks by keywords like your company’s name and receive notifications when people mention your company online.
You will find that when people speak about your company online, comments fall into 3 categories: Positive, Neutral, and Negative.
Engaging with people saying positive things is pleasant and easy. Simply saying Thank you goes a long way.

If someone says something neutral about your company, you should try to acknowledge them in an appropriate way, but don’t go overboard. If someone says “I just went shopping at this store” you could respond “We look forward to seeing you again!”
If someone is upset with your company, however, you need a different approach. When you see a negative comment is to remain calm and not take it personally.

Have a plan in place for how to respond to negative comments and complaints. Prepare a neutral, respectful initial response that acknowledges the person and their comment. Most people posting in social networks just want to be heard and your kind acknowledgement alone could diffuse a potentially disruptive situation.

Try to take the conversation offline as quickly as you can. Propose that the person contact you directly through a more private method so you can work to resolve the issue. Be thoughtful about what you say in public as other people – including other customers – may be watching.

Once you have more private and direct contact with the person, find out more about their issue and be prepared to have a remedy for them. Part of your planning process should include different scenarios and the appropriate remedies.

For example, if you are a restaurant and someone complains about their meal, you could offer them a gift card or discount for a future meal or invite them back to give you another chance and give them free desserts with their meals.

If you are a clothing store and the item the person purchased fell apart when they washed it, invite them back to the store for a full refund and offer them a discount on their next purchase.

If you are a hotel and someone has had terrible customer service, you could offer them a discount off a future stay or send a gift with a card apologizing for the bad experience.

Take a look at how some of the commercial airlines in the United States handle their social media customer service including Alaska Air, KLM and Jet Blue. Both are responsive and use kindness and sometimes even humor when appropriate to help customers, particularly on Twitter.

Often when you listen to and respond to someone who is complaining, you can turn them around from being an unhappy customer to being a happy one. Even better, they may become a more vocal supporter of your company, praising you more in social media and boosting your positive reputation because you handled their situation with respect and care.

It is less expensive to keep a loyal customer than to try to win new ones. Acquiring new customers can be even more expensive if your company has a bad reputation.

Some complaints might be bigger issues and require more planning and more careful handling. How big is the potential disaster and is it in your control? How big is the fire?

How will you handle that disaster? Will you use a glass of water or a bucket? Or do you need something stronger? There isn’t one right answer for every company on how to respond to serious complaints or issues and in some cases, lawyers may need to be involved your crisis response planning.

What if your company makes a mistake or is genuinely at fault and people are talking about this in social media?

A simple example of being at fault is to post something to social networks that offends people. In the United States, we’ve seen this happen were someone posts to the company social network account instead of their own with embarrassing results.

The best course of action when something is an embarrassing mistake is to admit it and apologize for it. A sincere apology that comes quickly can help diffuse the situation.

Sometimes, companies make bigger, more serious mistakes or an incident occurs where a company’s reputation is at risk because of their involvement in a larger situation. These bigger situations often require more people to handle the crisis and a more structured path to resolution.

The best course of action for handling more serious situations or social media disasters is to keep people informed every step of the way in terms of how you are handling the situation.

Silence is not the right approach.

Your customers and the general public are listening and watching how you handle crisis situations in social media. You need a plan to make sure your company is monitoring social media constantly until the situation is resolved.

Your plan should tell you:

  1. Who should respond first and how
  2. Who else in your organization should be notified
  3. Who can make decisions
  4. How you’ll assess quickly
  5. How you remedy the situation
  6. How you’ll recap the resolution both to the public and internally

Track comments and complaints and your response to them. You can use this information to develop a Frequently Asked Questions document for both internal use but also to share with the public to help address issues before they happen. You can also use this information to identify common problems within your company and give you direction for improving your company processes, products or services.

Back to the restaurant example, if you get many complaints about the service being unfriendly, customers could be pointing you to a company-wide issue. You could resolve the issue by arranging customer service training for your staff. Don’t look at all complaints as a nuisance. They can be instructive for you to make improvements on your business.

Social media can be a valuable tool to a company when managed well and with a plan in place. Not all situations can be predicted, but knowing who is responsible for handling the social media crisis and the general approach the company will take in crisis situations is the best way to use social media to a positive advantage.

In summary, you want to make a plan that includes how you will

  1. Monitor / Listen
  2. Assess Quickly – not all prepared approaches will be appropriate
  3. Acknowledge – respectful first contact can go a long way
  4. Take offline
  5. Respond
  6. Remedy

Using respect, kindness and care in social media can go a long way to avoiding a social media disaster.

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