How is it that company after company trips itself up in the social media space?  GoDaddyAflacChryslerNestleKenneth ColeQantas.

On and on, over and over. And it’s not just about how to avoid a problem in the first place, but also how to handle an issue once it arises (which in and of itself can generate scorn or admiration from consumers).

There’s lots of advice on the Web for marketers hoping to protect their brands from a social media bruising, and I’ll offer my two cents here with 10 tips for avoiding social media’s banana peel.

BEFORE…

1. Be honest about your brand’s vulnerabilities when deciding to use social media and its tools.  It is smart marketing – not “negativity” – to have an unblinkingly honest view of your brand and to protect its soft spots.  Paging McDonald’s, come in McDonald’s…

2. Have a contingency plan ready.  It’s not a question of how brilliant you are.  Things just… happen. Especially in social media.  You simply cannot anticipate every person’s reaction and what s/he might do or say.  See:  Chapstick. Or Gap.

3. Marketers strive to make their messaging relevant and timely.  I have often thought about how I might make a brand’s message relevant at holiday time (interesting Christmas themed surveys, etc.).  Some topics, however, are too serious to be co-opted by a marketer.  Natural disasters?  No thank you. Deaths?  ‘Don’t think so.  I don’t care what the rationale is. This. Is. A. Bad. Idea.  Poster child: Kenneth Cole.

4. Please be sure your left hand knows what your right hand is doing. Social media is not an activity unrelated to the rest of the company and its activities or circumstances.  My fave example: Qantas [A great tweet from @kiwi_kali:  “Somewhere at Qantas HQ a middle-aged manager is yelling at a Gen Y social media ‘expert’ to make it stop.”].

AND IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THE STEELY GRIP OF A SOCIAL MEDIA MESS…

5. Respond quickly.  You are “right” and others are in the wrong?  No one cares. Your brand is now being used and abused on the Web?  Don’t insult your customers in response.  End a social media crash-and-burn fast with an apology, if that’s appropriate, or some other move that will disarm the bomb.  See: Nestle v. American Red Cross by @hanelly.

6. Once the immediate crisis has passed, circle back with critics that really matter to you and your business – preferable offline. Take the conversation out of public channels to keep from fanning the flames and to give the critic the attention that s/he deserves.

7. Protect your brand assets.  I harken back to what I learned long ago at Citi Credit Cards – the name and the physical product are precious.  One never bends, breaks or otherwise violates the actual plastic in ads or anywhere else.  Just because the Web isn’t as tactile, per se, doesn’t mean the rules of brand stewardship do not apply.  The Netflix fumble over “Qwikster” was inexcusable, in my opinion.  The company threw away years of brand equity, picked a name, in particular, that didn’t have a fabulous past, AND failed to register the @Qwikster Twitter handle.  That was already registered to a dude whose avatar was Elmo the Muppet smoking pot. Can you say “fireable offense?” Totally rad, dude.

8. If one staff member or representative goes off a cliff, don’t beat yourself up too badly – it doesn’t mean that social is “bad.”  Tell your CEO that (to borrow a famous line from comedian Ron White) social media doesn’t fix stupid.  See:  Best Buy and Chrysler.

9. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that history does not repeat itself. One social media screw-up is plenty.

10.  If it’s humanly possible, make lemonade from lemons.  Domino’s (see #8 above) did a phenomenal job of transforming a stupid human trick into a positive corporate opportunity.  This isn’t always possible, but a little humanity and sincerity can go a long way. In Domino’s case, living through this episode was most certainly a mile marker on their road to using social to fundamentally change the company.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it’s a start.  Now get out there and don’t let your CEO kill any animals on video!

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A version of this post was originally published by the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG).

 

 

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