PReparing for the worst
How to maintain your business reputation from social media meltdown.
September 18, 2013 5:58 by kippreport
No matter what your line of business, there are always potential risks to your operations and, ultimately, your reputation. Good PR will ensure that your reputation is not only promoted, but also protected.
However, with the development of social media, communication channels are becoming increasingly harder to manage.
For the majority of SMEs operating without the support of an experienced PR team and, for whom reputation is important, this can throw up a host of issues that have not been encountered previously.
Anticipate the issues
Communication strategy should form an important part of any business plan, in terms of business development, or the oft-forgotten issues management. While we want to be positive and hope for the best, it pays to plan for the worst. Take an hour to brainstorm with your stakeholders (customers, suppliers, partners, media and influencers) and determine the most common causes for complaints, whether they are linked to your service, pricing or products. Anticipating the problems will allow you to prepare solutions and responses in advance.
Ensure a credible presence
Effective management of these issues relies completely on rapid response. Traditionally, PR professionals would ensure that media statements were prepared and approved within an hour. Now, news spreads fast on Twitter and you need to be ready to respond immediately. Make sure you have a profile set up on the micro-blogging site and that you actively use it for day-to-day communications. Remember, a crisis is not the time to start establishing your social media presence and responding to one with no previous activity will not give the best impression.
Are you listening?
There are a myriad of monitoring platforms available where you can quickly and easily review any mentions of your brand or products. Platforms such as HootSuite or TweetDeck allow you to monitor mentions of any keywords you choose across a variety of different social media networks. These early detection systems offer simple and effective ways of locating complaints, allowing you to respond before the situation has developed into a bigger issue with a wider audience.
What to say and when to say it
It’s inevitable that somebody at some point is going to complain about your business, and they’re going to do it in public. Before planning your response it’s important to remain detached to evaluate what the issue is and if it’s justified. Bearing in mind that the customer is always right, it’s also important to recognise that there are people out there who may just be having a bad day and looking to vent. Ensure to acknowledge the issue immediately, and ask for the complainant’s email address and additional information. The response needs to be personal and concerned, but try not to be defensive or overly apologetic – keep a professional tone at all times.
Take it offline
The most important thing to remember when responding to complaints and issues online is that while it needs to be publicly acknowledged (to show you are a company that cares), the dialogue does not need to be in the public domain and should be taken offline as soon as possible. Whether this is through private messages on Facebook, direct messages on Twitter, or simply by telephone or email, the easiest thing to do is to ask the person in question for their preferred contact details, often this is enough reassurance that you are taking the matter seriously.
Everybody wants their public image to be sparkling, but don’t be tempted to remove what could be construed as potentially negative content from your social media accounts. Every complaint and issue is a great opportunity to demonstrate (publicly) your fantastic customer service and commitment. Pretending that issues don’t exist is likely to enrage the person who complained, provoking them to further comment on platforms that you may not be able to control.
Engage fans and followers
In addition, public profiles with mixed sentiment are much more authentic than those with a list of glowing reviews and are, therefore, more likely to be trusted. If you are using your social media effectively, you should have an active and engaged community of potential brand ambassadors behind you. In cases when a complaint is made, it is the online community that responds in defense of the brand. This is obviously the strongest form of endorsement and is quite easily achieved from ensuring that you have an active and engaged community in the first place. They’re not called fans and followers for nothing.
Follow up and learn from it
With some simple preparation and a bit of human empathy, most issues are easily manageable. What is important, however, is to ensure that the cause of the issue is not forgotten and that action is taken to prevent it from happening again. Even the most effective communicators cannot contain issues if there are problems within the business operations, yet if managed properly, any issue can become invaluable feedback towards business development and innovation.
By Samantha Dancy, founder of Dubai-based Footstep Communications