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The morning after: What to do after a social media meltdown

The morning after a social media disaster

In light of Subaru Emirates' recent social media fiasco, communications professional Alex Malouf talks about what brands need to do to recover.

August 5, 2013 8:49 by

I’m sure that by now most of us would have heard about the online faux-pas that has plunked one global automotive brand into hot water in the UAE over the past couple of days.

There’s no doubt that social media has completely transformed the way consumer-facing companies deal with the public. Online media channels allow for instant two-way communication between consumers and brands. If handled properly, social media can increase brand recognition, brand loyalty and sales revenues.

However when online brand communications go wrong, the resulting effects can be disastrous.

Brands can recover from a social media meltdown if they act soon. Companies such as Domino’s Pizza, Nestlé and United Airlines have recovered from such crises. The easiest and most common strategy to undo reputation damage is to:

1) Be quick

2) Be honest.

3) And, show contrition

Let’s start with the first response. Timing is critical to stop and repair the damage. The gaffe can go viral if the company fails to respond quickly. Three hundred and forty million tweets were registered in 2012 by Twitter and more than 30 billion pieces of content is shared on Facebook every month. Therefore, the longer a brand waits to undo a mistake, the more time online users have to comment, share and bring others into the conversation.

Secondly, there’s the concept of engagement. Social media is online, i.e., 24 hours a day. Brands need to ensure that there are community managers listening to their audience at all times and are able to spot when things go wrong and step in to correct them.

However, this can work both ways. If the page admin doesn’t understand how offensive or wrong the comment was, as was the case this week, then a second pair of eyes will help bring some objectivity to the matter and stop whoever posted the slip-up from fanning the fire and turning the mistake into a viral disaster.

Finally, there’s the apology. Often, a community manager will not understand the blunder made and may attempt to argue. But brands need to own up to their mistakes as soon as possible, then show humility and come clean. The most senior person of a company needs to step up and say sorry via all of the brand’s communication channels (yes, every single channel they use).

The whole concept of social media is that we engage, share and spread information. While a company may address one section of its audience through Facebook, the crisis will be spreading on Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube, through blogs and the comments section in news portals.

Brands need to be aware of how information spreads online and engage with communities through their own websites. Even the company executives should show honesty, sincerity and humility for what has happened.

One of the most effective means to say you’re sorry is through video. Channels such as YouTube best capture all of the nuances of how we communicate, from what we say to how we say it. Get in front of a camera, go online and say you’re sorry.  Admit what was done was wrong and that it won’t happen again. Go further, and explain what actions you and your brand will take to ensure that lessons have been learnt.

Brands need to be attentive to their audience and listen for both positive and negative feedback. If a mistake has been made, then own up to it sooner rather than later (we all make mistakes); be accountable and show humility.

People are forgiving, especially if your company has a solid history of supporting the community and has followers who are ready to defend you when things go wrong. Remember, if you can’t read the post out loud or show the image to your parents, then save yourself a social media meltdown and don’t put the content online. Prevention is always better than cure.


*A British national with Arabic roots; Alex Malouf has spent ten years in the Gulf and has lived in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Alex lost his heart to journalism years ago, but he has worked with a range of multinational companies in the technology, energy and financial sectors to develop marketing and communications for the region. He’s currently based in Dubai, but calls Bahrain home.


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