Damage Control in the Age of Social Media

If you have a one-star rating on Yelp, or some disgruntled customers are taking their complaints to Facebook so that all your other “loyal” followers can see it, what do you do?

Have you been following what’s been going on with Fedex and the videos, spreading virally across the Internet and social media, showing their delivery people abusing their customers’ expensive-looking holiday packages? The way we see it, they’ve gone a few hours over their response time already.

Social media is the easiest way to build – and break – your brand. When you’re visible on Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Twitter, StumbleUpon, etc., you’re potentially in front of millions. If you’ve got negative sentiments about your company or brand floating around the Internet, how do you swat it out of the air? What if it’s as serious as a company boycott organized on Facebook?

You can try old media techniques, such as issuing a formal company statement – and get promptly ignored. Blanket statements and one-way “conversations” don’t work. When you’re hit on social media, social media is the only thing that has the reach and the speed to fix it.

As business owners and social media marketing experts, we know this about your social media connections: if you ignore them or underestimate them – it’s at your peril.

From one end of the spectrum to another, social media is changing the game. Aside from all the celebrity backlash and corporate misfires that we witness constantly, it’s hard to ignore the power and reach of social media when we can watch something like the drama of a revolution unfolding in the Middle East through tweets and Facebook groups.  No one is immune – and that includes individuals, politicians, corporations, and entire governments.

How old media stacks up against social media: it doesn’t.

Kanye West and Pepsi

When Kanye West snatched a microphone away from Taylor Swift at the VMA show, he made quick enemies of his own fans as well as Swift’s. He won back much of his fanbase by apologizing on Twitter. Similarly, Pepsi was quick to take their apology to Twitter when they received backlash for an insensitive ad depicting “one lonely calorie” committing suicide.

What Kanye and Pepsi had in common was that they knew they were going straight to the people who cared the most. The point is, your followers are already oriented toward you, and it’s up to you to honor that.

The Domino Effect

Back in 2009, a couple of Domino’s employees posted YouTube videos of themselves doing disgusting things to the food they were about to deliver. It went viral with over a million views in just a few short days. A Google search for Domino’s treated users to references to the video – about half of the first page of search results. Of course, the news took off on Twitter. At first, executives decided to lay low and hope the controversy would die down. That’s when it snowballed.

Domino’s spokesperson Tim McIntyre said they were “blindsided by two idiots,” and that, “Even people who’ve been with us as loyal customers for 10, 15, 20 years, people are second-guessing their relationship with Domino’s, and that’s not fair.”

It wasn’t until they retaliated through social media that things started to get under control. They realized that a lot of the Twitter comments and questions were, “What’s Domino’s doing about it?” Domino’s responses weren’t being covered in Twitter. So, a couple of days after being alerted about the videos, the pizza chain had put their CEO on YouTube and created a Twitter account to address the comments.

By responding quickly on the proper channels, Domino’s diffused a PR nightmare.

The Taco Bell Lawsuit

If you get attacked through social media, you have to fight back through social media. If you get caught in a traditional attack – like a lawsuit – you still have to fight back through the social media networks.

When Taco Bell had a class-action lawsuit thrown at them saying their meat wasn’t really beef, they fought back on Twitter and Facebook. They linked to Stephen Colbert on Twitter to provide comedic commentary on the controversy; they offered free tacos on Facebook and invited customers to make up their own minds. The bottom line is that, despite a hit in overall sales, they still have seven million fans on Facebook. And the lawsuit? Dropped.

The Bottom Line

Social media has the power to accelerate and amplify your message and your credibility (or lack thereof). 

Success and failure can hinge on how well companies understand this.

It starts with getting into the conversation. And, just as in “real” life, being heard isn’t about talking the loudest or saying something over and over, hoping it’ll stick. And simply feeding commercial messages into your social media stream will only get you ignored and un-followed. It’s all about sincere participation. Social media has brought people closer to their idols and other public figures like never before. And, yes, to corporations and companies, too. It’s about sharing information, not manipulating the truth, so that what you are on social media honestly represents who you are and what your business means. That’s how you stay safe on social media.

Bad news and negative publicity can spread like wildfire through the social networks. But so can good news and good customer service. Proper management of your social media marketing is crucial. If you’ve got bad reviews or complaints in public forums like social media, respond properly. And do it fast.  If you don’t have time to manage your campaigns or keep tabs on social media, get someone who can (we can think of a pretty good team if you’re having trouble finding one). And be who you say you are.