Tasha Cunningham: Five lessons learned from social media mistakes



Ever wonder how big brands recover from social media mistakes? The answer is sometimes they don’t. Take the case of HMV, a music retailer based in the United Kingdom. In the midst of layoffs that saw 190 employees make their exit from the company, an upset employee began live tweeting about how HMV was being ruined. That tweet made it around the world in minutes, tarnishing HMV’s already battered reputation.

Then there’s the Applebee’s employee in St. Louis who received a snarky note from a customer in lieu of a tip. She uploaded the receipt to Reddit with a few choice words of her own and subsequently lost her job in the aftermath for violating a customer’s privacy.

You may remember last year when clothing retailer Kenneth Cole attributed the cause of rioting in Egypt to the fact that rioters heard about the company’s spring collection launching online. A slew of angry people began calling for a boycott of the brand and even created hashtags to promote it.

While these blunders are certainly cringe-worthy, as a small business owner you can learn how to avoid the same mistakes. Five lessons to heed:

•  Establish a social media policy. It’s important that the people who work for you and represent your company understand what is acceptable to post on social media about their work. If posting a customer receipt violates your firm’s privacy policy, say so and make sure your employees know. If posting derogatory comments about their workplace on their personal social media feeds is a no-no, you’ve got to ensure that your employees are informed. Be sure to review and revise your policy at least annually to keep up with evolving trends in social media. To learn how to draft a good social media policy for your small business, check out HRSpecialist.com - http://ow.ly/i3SkP

•  Have a social media crisis communications plan in place. Most small business owners are so busy running their companies that they don’t take the time to create a protocol for what to do in the event of a crisis. Set aside 30 minutes sometime this week to come up with a plan of attack in the event that a bad social media post goes viral. To help you get started, check out a book by Chris Syme called Listen, Engage, Respond: Crisis Communications in Real-Time- http://ow.ly/i3Pcp

•  Always maintain administrative access to your social media feeds. It’s okay to give others access to maintain your social media feeds, such an employee or outside public relations agency. But it’s not okay for you not to have access. Make sure that you can always revoke administrative access to employees or third parties that have access to your feeds. This is important because if you’ve got a disgruntled employee on your hands making disastrous posts that could affect your brand, you’ve got to be able to shut that person out and contain the damage. In the case of HMV, the employee who posted those rogue tweets actually still had access to the company’s social media accounts even after the crisis occurred.

•  Be sensitive to national news stories. Many PR people will tell you that one way to get noticed in the media is by hooking your local story to a national one. For example, if a study is released nationally with compelling statistics, it could be interesting for a newspaper or TV station to look at that same statistic from a local perspective. The same is not always true for social media. In the case of Kenneth Cole, the company latched on to an international story about rioting in Egypt and didn’t realize the gravity of the issue. They did not approach it with sensitivity. Don’t make the same mistake. If you’re going to post something related to a national news story, make sure you understand what the issue is and any sensitive topics that may be associated with it. Draft the post and send it around a few people you trust to see how they react to it. When in doubt, it’s better to not post at all.

•  Don’t be reactionary. Many times, big brands make social media blunders because they aren’t prepared. Because social media is instant, brands will post out of a knee-jerk reaction instead of preparing a thoughtful message or update. If you find yourself facing a disastrous post or tweet, don’t panic. Take a deep breath — it is better for your brand if you remain calm and collected. Own up to the post, apologize and tell your fans and followers that you are working on the issue. Then, take the time you need to craft a meaningful response.

For more advice, see The Starting Gate on MiamiHerald.com/business

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