Don't Let a Social Crisis Damage Your Reputation

Reputation monitoring is of paramount importance for organizations in today's digital world. While the Web has greatly increased the ability of businesses both large and small to compete, it has also increased the risk of bad publicity, vicious rumors, and all manner of crises to rapidly spin out of control.

Social media can inflame a crisis communication situation—or cause it—as illustrated in the two examples below.

1. An incident has occurred, and social media is helping to spread an inaccurate version—rapidly.

2. An incident has not occurred, but the social media universe is buzzing with comments about your organization's product, service, customer service, employees, etc.

In both instances, if you are not monitoring social media, you are ill prepared to craft an effective and comprehensive response.

In August 2010, a JetBlue flight attendant quit his job in a very public and bizarre manner, a manner not foreseen by the airline when it was putting together its crisis communications plan. However, by staying on top of the story and knowing the ins and outs of social media response, the airline was able to turn what most analysts predicted to be a PR nightmare into a success. According to Neil Glassman, of Social Times.com, the company "nailed it." Glassman noted the following four points for JetBlue's successful handling of the situation, all of which were actionable because of its careful monitoring:

1. By acknowledging the strangeness of the situation, the airline kept the social media conversation away from topics that could have turned critical of JetBlue.

2. Using a tone consistent with the JetBlue brand reinforced the brand as sufficiently resilient to weather this storm.

3. Refraining from firing off a quick defense before the airline knew what it was defending itself against may have prevented the airline from having to defend itself at all.

4. Responding only in JetBlue's blog almost guaranteed wide distribution across social media.

Jet Blue illustrates why it is vital that your company's communications plan has a social media monitoring—and response—component. At its most basic, this component should include the following:

  • Check Google Places. Get into the habit of checking your Google Places listing at least weekly to monitor the reviews and make sure that your company's information is correct and up to date.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your company so you'll know when you're mentioned in the media.
  • Set up alerts for your company's Facebook profile. If you have a company Facebook page, you should set it so that you're notified whenever someone leaves a comment.

Use a social media monitoring service (like HootSuite) to provide data on social media mentions across platforms.

Social media posting and monitoring, like search engine optimization, takes strategy, time, and diligence, says Kathleen Grueneberg, communications and marketing manager at Christian Hospital in St. Louis. "It should be part of your overall strategy and tie back to and link to all your other advertising and community outreach initiatives," she says.

Our agency, which Christian Hospital partners with for its social plan and guidance, suggests the following plan for establishing a response mechanism:

1. Assess the legitimacy of the post or comment. If it's legitimate, address it promptly and honestly. Most consumers with a legitimate issue appreciate a quick and sincere response. It can even result in good publicity in the form of positive comments.

2. Make amends. Do what you can to remedy the situation, whether it is a process improvement or a change in customer service culture. Chances are these improvements will significantly contribute to customer goodwill and bottom line revenue.

What should you do if the post is not legitimate? We suggest deleting and ignoring unsubstantiated comments. Our agency once had a hospital client that started seeing undeserved and unsubstantiated derogatory comments from a patient who had a history of mental illness. In such a case, it's best to quickly delete the comments and ignore the person posting them.

Sometimes, however, negative publicity can go beyond individual comments and involve the media. In these cases, you need to make sure that you use all available outlets to respond appropriately and tell your side of the story. Online press releases are a great way to respond, and outlets such as PRWeb can be used to make sure that your story gets wide circulation.

When you issue an online press release, it's vital to include keywords and phrases that people—the public as well as the media—who may be looking for more information would use to search for the story. This helps drive searchers to your site, landing page, YouTube channel, or online release so that they can easily find your version of what happened. In fact, when you create your press release, it's vital to include links to pages on your Web site about the story, and to post links to those pages on all of your social media outlets. Be sure to make use of Twitter hashtags as well.

Social media has been a boon to businesses, but it has a dark side too. As such, it is even more important to add a social media monitoring and strategic response component to your corporate communications plan. By tending to your business's reputation as carefully as you do your own personal reputation, getting into the habit of monitoring what's being said about you, and making use of the tools that are available to help you monitor and respond, you can stay ahead of the curve and protect your company.

Kaysha Kalkofen and JoAnna Dettmann are cofounders of tSunela, a digital marketing firm that specializes in search engine optimization, mobile search marketing, paid search marketing, local search optimization, Web analytics, and social media marketing.

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