How to survive a social media trashing

Wednesday 28 October, 2015 | By: Colin Fruk | Tags: social media, digital, branding, reputation, PR, marketing;

Aren’t social media fails the perfect combination of car crash rubber-necking and schadenfreude? You can’t help but stare and feel a bit smug, all at the same time. Until it happens to you. Here’s what to do.


Not if. When.

American Apparel’s online brand voice is known for being a tad provocative. Which was all well and good until last year when a young staffer (presumably born after the 1986 Challenger disaster) used the seminal image of the space shuttle exploding in a sky full of smoke to wish the brand’s huge Tumblr audience a happy Fourth of July. The fall-out was, well, explosive.

Closer to home, consumers turned on Woolworths this year when the supermarket giant tried to cash in on Anzac Day sentiment with a national #freshinourmemories campaign. It spawned an outpouring of outrage across all of the supermarket’s social channels and inspired a flurry of memes mocking the chain by honoring far less important events, such as the long-gone Franklins supermarket chain.

The problem in both cases – and the other hundreds of fails that happen every year – is that social media magnifies errors. The vitriole is harsher than you can imagine and the shares multiply faster than you can blink. But while you’re almost certain to have a misstep online, there are ways to minimise it.

1. Build your audience in good times

So many SMEs think simply having social media channels and pushing occasional posts is enough. But when push comes to shove, it’s far too late to build an engaged, supportive audience. Being successful at social media takes significant investment of time and resources. Invest the time now and you’ll have an audience you can rally in tough times.

2. Be your brand, not yourself

A common mistake of small business owners is to assume that your social media voice is your own. From the outset in your social channels, develop channels in your brand name, not just yours personally. Establish a separate voice to your own, too – which might be authoritative or humorous or ironic, depending on the sophistication of your brand and your audience. Having both well established will take the sting out of the attack when it comes.

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3. Be human

A brand is not a machine. It’s a personality. So make sure you content is rich with human emotion and treats your audience as people to be respected and cared for, too. You’re never talking B2B or B2C: you’re always talking H2H. Human to human.

4. When you stuff up, apologise

People are not afraid to call you out for real or perceived slights on social media, and, let’s face it, it’s the medium of choice for faceless trolls. Regardless of how you personally feel, you should apologise quickly and publicly if you’ve wronged a customer and, equally quickly but privately, try to find some way of restitution. Very few brands get away without doing this.

5. Try a little technology

It seems SMEs fall into two camps:- those who post far too infrequently, and those who seem to love the sound of their own mismanaged voice. Neither is strategic. For both, organising and scheduling content through a social media management system, such as Hootsuite, can be a real step forward. For those a little too likely to post without thought, it also gives some important moments to pause and edit before hitting ‘send’.

6. Plan ahead of time

Social media fails happen fast and furious. Minutes absolutely count. So before a fail happens, you and your staff need to know exactly how to respond so that you don’t leave an issue to gain traction while you work out what to do.

Finally, it’s also worth noting that many social media fails are courtesy of disgruntled or careless employees. CCIQ's templates store has a simple but effective pro-forma social media policy you can get your staff to sign so they know exactly what they can and can’t say online.

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