Social Media Crisis: Lessons from the Front Lines. Is Your Brand Prepared?

By Social: IRL principal, Ben Smith. Originally published as a personal post on Google+

Some important social media lessons for both businesses and individuals can be taken from a pretty incredible and somewhat scary series of events that took place on Facebook last week.

DislikeOne of my clients suddenly started receiving a string of angry comments on their Facebook Page over a comment an employee (we’ll call her Jane – not her real name) had posted on her own personal Facebook Profile. The company wasn’t referenced at all in the post, the post wasn’t relevant to them in any way, and the views were in no way held to be those of the company. The only connection was that the company had been tagged as Jane’s employer in the About section of her Facebook Profile.

The comment posted by Jane was provocative and directed at members of the armed forces. She later deleted it. Following is a summary of events that unfolded and five important lessons that apply to us both personally and professionally for the brands we represent.

First, although Jane deleted her post, someone had taken a screen shot of it and posted it in a military support group on Facebook. From there it spread virally at a rapid rate. A screen shot showing her full name, Facebook profile photo and the update itself were very quickly being shared by thousands of Facebook users. More evidence that “delete” doesn’t work and that once you post an update you can never effectively take it back or control who sees it beyond your intended audience.

Second, Jane was one of the many Facebook users who have no privacy controls in place. From seeing her name and profile photo, it had been easy find her personal profile. Her Facebook Timeline, photo albums, and personal information were all public. Her profile was quickly covered in thousands of angry, hateful, threatening, obscene comments – about her, her husband, and even about her young baby. From the information she was publicly sharing and the link back to her husband’s Facebook profile from her About information, it would have been very easy to track them down offline. With the nature of many of the comments made, that was a scary prospect. Again, her comments were offensive to many people, but the response was still shocking in both its speed and ferocity. Facebook gives us privacy controls. Use them. The public nature of Jane’s profile and the personal information shared goes beyond the thousands of angry comments to being a personal safety issue for her and her family. We can’t blame Facebook for giving access to our personal information if we fail to take advantage of the privacy tools they provide us with.

Third, the angry comments on the Facebook Page threatened to have a very real impact on their business. The comments came quickly, and in most instances the company was being held as having the same views as the individual or in some way having responsibility for her actions. Again, the comments Jane posted were on her personal profile, never mentioned the company, and were never implied as being on behalf of the company. Absolutely the only connection was her About information tagging the company as her employer. That alone was enough for the company to be held (in many instances) as responsible for her comments, even an assumption that they shared Jane’s views. What most of those people had failed to pay any attention to was that Jane listed the company as an employer with and end date in 2012. She hadn’t even worked for the company for close to a year. So understand this, when your employees affiliate themselves with your company they are absolutely your brand ambassadors – for good or bad – and will absolutely impact perceptions of your brand. Don’t ignore that fact. Do you have social media guidelines or policies in place? Do you educate employees on digital citizenship risks and responsibilities or online privacy? Of course it won’t magically stop incidents like this one from happening, but education, guidance and accountability are a great first step. An HR Director told me not too long ago that due to the risks that came with social media their company had avoided any social media presence – mitigate risk by shutting it out. My reply to her was simply that if they had any employees who were social media users, then their company had a social media presence. In this particular instance, Jane’s comments were from someone who didn’t even work for the company any more. People simply saw the name and established a connection. It was unfortunate that they came to such quick conclusions about the company from nothing more than that connection, also that they apparently failed to notice or just ignored the fact that the same information that said she worked for the company also said she had left their employment nearly a year earlier, but that’s another discussion entirely.

Fourth, I’ve had plenty of people say to me that having a Facebook Page or any other type of social media presence is a liability due to the risk of negative comments or brand attacks. I’m sure some of those people would use this example to reinforce that viewpoint – the brand came under heavy attack with highly negative and damaging comments posted very publicly on their Facebook Page, including calls to boycott their business. Yet the company was entirely innocent in the situation. If there hadn’t been a Facebook Page, then all those negative comments wouldn’t have been posted, right? Wrong! They would – just in places we wouldn’t have known about them so quickly (if at all) or been able to respond to. I say that having a brand-controlled space for those negative comments to be posted to is beneficial. It meant in this case that we could see the comments happening quickly and were able to respond to and be part of the conversation – not have it take place (and escalate) without us. We could ensure those already in the conversation were acknowledged and their concerns directly addressed, and that those coming to the Page to join the conversation were met with a statement from the company helping them make a more informed decision. As a result the issue was actually able to be resolved relatively quickly as far as the company involvement went. A lot of the anger was able to be diffused relatively easily given the overall scope of the situation, and a lot of damage was avoided. Without the ability to engage quickly and effectively at a central focal point, the attacks against the company could quickly have escalated out of control.

Fifth, be ready. What would you do in a similar situation? It can happen to any company, large or small. Speed of response was critical in this instance and with the right steps taken to respond in the right way and in a timely and proactive fashion, the attacks against the company were relatively short-lived. Many users continued to visit the company’s Page to post comments, but after the response plan was initiated a majority of the comments moved from negative to positive sentiment, even while the incident itself continued to escalate out of control. The statement posted by the company was not negative about Jane. It simply clarified that it was former employee and that her views did not represent the company views, and explained what the company views actually were. Did it stop every negative comment? No, but a majority of them. No spin or PR, just a simple statement of fact. Of course, a few people still were angry with the company, a few clearly didn’t read the statement. But a vast majority acknowledged it and either clicked the “Like” button and went on their way, or left a comment of support. What if it was your business? Do you have a plan – how and when you’ll engage, what you’ll say, who can approve statements being issued on behalf of the company and how quickly can that approval be secured? What if it’s after hours, as happened to be the case in this instance?

Meanwhile the individual who posted the original comments lost her current job as a result, is dealing with literally thousands of very unpleasant comments on her personal Facebook Profile, and is being forever indexed by Google alongside the very negative comments she made – despite having deleted them – and will likely suffer long term consequences for her choice of words.

Some important lessons, and a very scary series of events in terms of the speed of escalation and ferocity of response. As I’ve said several times, the comments Jane posted were considered offensive and were going to generate an angry response, but I don’t think anyone would ever have imagined a situation quite like this. So pause and consider the question: is your brand prepared?

Smart Social: A Conversation with Expion’s Erica McClenny

Smart Social SmallErica McClenny is Senior VP of Client Services at social software company Expion, and is responsible for providing strategic support and guidance for the company’s major brand clients.

For this latest installment of our Smart Social interview series, we spoke with Erica about some of the key challenges, opportunities and trends she has seen emerge through working with this diverse group of brands. The conversation includes valuable insights for any company embarking on or continuing along the path to social maturity, and concludes with a powerful and practical definition and application of the “smart social” theme.

The interview was conducted via Google Hangout.

Part One: Erica discusses working with brands in a strategic business development role and some of the specific challenges and opportunities that have emerged during that process, from creating the right operational structure for social success, to not setting yourself up for perceived failure by trying to measure against a running stage when in reality you are only crawling.

Part Two: Erica discusses social media-driven and empowered employee advocacy as a means for providing a valuable and trusted extension of brand voice, while also allowing individual employees to serve in a valuable lead generation role.

Part Three: Erica discusses key emerging trends, including the consolidation of data and analysis of cross portfolio customer insights. Also the opportunity for brands to connect through social on a local level without overtasking local employees. She also includes a word of caution about keeping focus and avoiding the temptation or pressure of jumping on every new trend –  “doing an average job of being everywhere vs. doing a great job of being in the channels that most closely align with your goals and KPIs.”

Part Four: We conclude the conversation by focussing back on the “smart social” theme and Erica shares a powerful and practical definition of what smart social means to her.

Listen to Learn: The First Stage of Social Business Transformation

Guest post by Eric Melin, Manager Marketing & Communications at Social: IRL sponsor, Spiral16.

Social Business StrategyAt this stage in the world of widespread social media adoption, it seems that almost every company has some kind of social media presence. It may not be cohesive, and it might not be integrated into your overall strategy, but hopefully your company has gone beyond the experimentation stage and has implemented a social media program in either a marketing or customer service capacity.

(If you’re using web and social media monitoring for market/industry research too, you are well ahead of the curve — congratulations!)

According to Brian Solis and Charlene Li at the Altimeter Group, there are six steps towards linking customer and employee relationships to social media strategies and business growth. The Evolution of Social Business: Six Stages of Social Media Transformation is a new report that illustrates a process that can move companies into “deeper social business strategies.” This is an in-depth document aimed at taking a company all the way from social confusion to social success.

The first stage is the most important. It’s defined in the report as Planning: Listen to Learn.

  • Before you can begin to build a social strategy, you have to understand the landscape of the Internet and how your company fits into that. What is the social behavior of your customers? Where are they talking about your brand? What needs are they expressing online? This will help figure out on which networks you can most effectively connect with them.
  • Start a pilot social media program and experiment with the intelligence provided by your social media monitoring. Altimeter says many companies use pilot programs to connect the dots between social media efforts and business impact and then prioritizes which strategies to roll out first. Don Bulmer, VP Communication Strategy at Shell also warns to move beyond experimentation soon afterwards, and go “all in.”
  • Competitive intelligence audits help you to understand how your competition is and isn’t using social media. What opportunities are they taking? Which ones are they missing out on? How can you improve on this for your company?

Six Stages of Social Business Transformation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within this first stage of social business transformation, the report also identifies six best practices in online listening and learning.

 READ MORE about those six best practices in the Spiral16 blog.

Social Strategy Insights: #Expion13 Charlene Li Interview

Social: IRL recently participated in Expion’s second social business summit, Smart Social 2013. This invitation-only event featured some of the largest brands and most respected agencies from across the U.S.

Over the course of the summit, Social: IRL had the opportunity of interviewing a number of the event’s speakers and attendees. One of those interviews was with the event’s keynote speaker Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group and author of the critically acclaimed bestselling books Open Leadership and Groundswell.

In the interview, which is embedded below, Charlene shares valuable social business insights and discusses social media strategy vs. tactics, the importance of listening as a foundation for social activity, and ROI vs. business impacts.

Additional interviews will be shared over the coming days via Expion’s Google Plus Page. You can also visit Expion’s blog to read event recaps, featuring valuable social business insights from speakers and attendees.

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The seven whiteboard sessions every social strategist needs to have in 2012

We’re excited to be able to share a valuable new resource – “7 Whiteboard Sessions for Every Social Strategist.

Click to Download

This dynamic new whitepaper discusses seven key areas that all social media practitioners and organizations should be thinking about to help businesses continue to grow and thrive their social media programs throughout the year.

The paper was produced by Spredfast, a leading provider of Social CRM software for social media monitoring, engagement, coordination, measurement and integration.  Spredfast is also a  Social: IRL sponsor.

In preparing the paper, Spredfast spent a great deal of time talking with customers, partners and industry leaders from organizations such as Altimeter Group, Edelman Digital, MarketingProfs and Social Media Explorer to identify the biggest areas of opportunity in social media for enterprises and agencies. From those discussions, seven key areas of opportunity emerged:

1. Gaining Insight About Your Social Customer
Your customers are at the heart of everything you do – or should be doing – in social media. How are you learning about their preferences, activity and interactions to help inform your decisions?

2. Adopting Social Media Company-Wide
Social media has moved far beyond just social media marketing.  How are you planning to help roll out social media beyond just Marketing efforts to achieve business goals in departments throughout the business like Sales, R&D, Customer Care, HR or Public Relations?

3. Operationalizing Social Media with Workflows and Processes
Expanding social media throughout the your business is complex. How are you planning to operationalize social media with internal processes, communication standards and workflows to make the activity seamless between teams and people?

4. Getting the Most out of Your Great Content
Content is at the heart of everything you do in social media. But that doesn’t mean it has to be all new content or that it should exist in a vacuum. What content do you have that should be used across you social channels and how can this be used in an engaging way?

5. Delivering Better Customer Experiences
Creating good experiences is the key to successful social media programs. What do your customers want or need to experience to make their interactions positive and unique with your brand?

6. Integration
Social media initiatives are one part of a greater business initiative. And because of that, they need to be integrated into greater systems and reporting dashboards so that they can add context to overall goals.

7. Showing a Return on Social
What are your social media programs yielding in terms of social impressions, activity from your internal teams and engagement from your target audience?

Regardless of where you are in your social planning and strategy efforts, these seven areas are key to hone in on from a social media perspective. They can help make your current social programs richer and also ensure you are planning with an eye toward future social business success.

In preparing this whitepaper, Spredfast took a creative approach in presenting each area of opportunity as a “whiteboard session”, with ideas on how to approach planning and assessment and an action plan to get started. Importantly, the “whiteboard sessions” can be used as the foundation for a series of meetings designed to foster discussion and secure the buy-in needed to make your efforts successful.

For a brief overview of the whitepaper, check out the Executive Summary embedded below.

To access the complete 36 page whitepaper click here. You’ll just need to complete some very basic registration information and will then receive a free PDF download.

Kudos Spredfast. A great resource with a practical, fun and creative approach.