10 Ways to Protect Your Reputation on Social Media

Here’s another excerpt from our upcoming eBook, The Little Book of Social Media, coming out at the end of the month.

Misusing social media can severely damage your brand. You must be vigilant. Here are 10 ways you can protect your brand and safeguard your reputation.

1. Respond quickly.
Be on constant watch for questions directed at your Twitter user handle or posted to your Facebook wall. Respond to each one. It’s not just about the people you are interacting with; it’s also about all the other people who are watching how you interact. Use tools like HootSuite or HubSpot’s Social Inbox to help you monitor your social media feeds and make sure you are not missing any mentions or comments. You can also create Twitter lists of your customers and search them for words like “help” and “support.”

Image courtesy of Chris Waits

2. Don’t ignore negative feedback or complaints about bad service.
You are always better off responding quickly to a bad review or a complaint. If you don’t, others will fill the gap – and their messaging won’t be positive. You should respond even before you have an answer, just to let your customers (and the people who are watching your exchange) know that you’re listening and will work to address the problem. As soon as you’ve acknowledged the concern, take the issue out of the public eye by contacting the customer directly. If the customer is a lost cause, at least you will show that you tried to right a wrong, regardless of what the consumer decides to do.

3. Admit mistakes immediately, but don’t delete them.
This seems obvious, but many companies take far too long to apologize for their mistakes when they post something inappropriate. Every minute that goes by increases the possibility of bad PR. If your company made a mistake or showed poor judgment, do not delete the mistake (people will circulate screenshots of the deleted content, so your deletion will seem sneaky or even cowardly). Instead, immediately acknowledge that you messed up, and promise to do better. Take responsibility for your content and what you put out there.

4. Hire and train professional, quick-thinking people.
This may seem like another obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how often a company hires someone to manage their social media based solely on the criteria that the person knows how to use social media. While it’s helpful to already know all the tools and to be immersed in online culture, it is even more important to have the right skills to effectively engage with customers. Not every intern is cut out for social media management! Your social media manager is one of your company’s most public voices, so he or she needs to be professional and cool under fire. They also should have a sense of humor and the ability to deal with customers without acting defensive or passive aggressive.

5. Don’t talk to trolls.
Trolls are people who purposefully post inflammatory and often extreme comments in an effort to get others riled up. Attention is what they want, so don’t provide it. Don’t defend yourself from them and don’t engage in snarky comments about them. Simply enforce your community guidelines and delete any comments that don’t meet those guidelines.

6. Think twice before you sponsor or leverage a hashtag.

Twitter monetizes its service in part by offering companies the opportunity to sponsor hashtags or tweets. Make sure the hashtag you are sponsoring is not too vague or does not have a double meaning; in either case, trolls will jump on the opportunity to turn it into a bashtag (remember the #McDStories debacle?). Similarly, make sure you know why a hashtag is trending before you jump on it as an opportunity to promote your company or product — I bet CelebBoutique wishes they had done that.

7. Tweet from the right account.
This mistake is easy to make, but its effects can be hard to undo. Several companies, including KitchenAid and StubHub, have learned the hard way that it is critical that their social media managers be vigilant about keeping work and personal social media accounts separate. Each company had to issue a public apology when their social media teams posted personal (and offensive) tweets from their corporate Twitter accounts. A mistake like this really exposes your brand to not only negative attention but also a sense of mistrust – who is really behind your tweets and are they the nice people they seem to be?

8. Don’t talk politics or religion.
It’s the same golden rule we abide by in the workplace and with people we don’t know well: don’t talk about politics or religion. Unless you are an organization with a known political or religious affiliation, stay away from these touchy subjects. Regardless of your views, you will alienate many of your customers.

9. Have a plan for reacting to national events and negative PR scenarios.
Think through possible scenarios and document a plan for handling each one. Review the plans with your team. Examples might be a national emergency or disaster, a market downturn, a product recall, a scathing customer review, etc. When it comes to national or international events, your best bet is either to say nothing or to offer a simple message of condolence to those affected. Having a plan in place certainly would have helped Epicurious, the company that unwisely responded to the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013 by suggesting that people try their cranberry scone recipe.

10. Make it easy for customers to get in touch, and be available around the clock.
Provide a connection to customer service right through your social media team. Don’t make your customers go looking for customer service, and don’t send them to a 1-800 number. It will mean more work for your team, but that is better than having a customer post a complaint about not being able to reach you. You’ll also need to keep an eye on your accounts and your account management tools (such as the aforementioned HootSuite) around the clock. Divide the off-hours responsibility among team members so nobody is “on call” to check your social media management accounts and management tools every weekend. You don’t want a customer to post a question at 4:59 p.m. on Friday and not get an answer until Monday morning.

For more tips on how to create a great social media experience for your customers, look for The Little Book of Social Media, to be released on July 31st.

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