Do You Have A Risk-Management Plan for Social Media?

March 15, 2012 by Sherrell Dorsey

By Sherrell Dorsey
Where brands have been built by the viral nature of social media, there are many that have walked away with bruised egos, suffering blows to their brand equity simply for not planning for the unpredictable. Crisis control and public affairs dealings were at one time measurable, controllable and typically planned for in advance. But now, brands must raise the question long before they think about new ways to market to their audience: What will be the effects of damaging social media backlash on a our brand in this uncontrollable environment, and how will we track it as to manage the crisis accordingly and quickly?

In an article on the FinancialPost writer Don Ovesy quotes interviews Will Stewart, the managing principal at public relations firm Navigator, who states, “The best way for a brand to mitigate the negative effects of social media gone bad is to ensure it has won over hearts and minds in advance of the crisis.”

The key to managing risk in a volatile social media environment will consist of policy development before a social media campaign or presence is even established. With rules and communication guidelines pre-maturely laid out in a concrete contingency plan. With a plan in place, a brand can respond immediately when backlash occurs, identify who will manage communication among consumers, interest groups, shareholders and the media, and order the planned response steps that will be taken to engage with a perturbed audience.

Brands that clearly failed to develop a contingency plan can still be identified by the negative ramifications of not responding to their enraged public. Examples include:

United Airlines – Singer Dave Carroll pleaded with United Airlines back in 2008 to repair his guitar which had been damaged by the airport’s baggage handlers. Instead of responding to Carroll’s 9 months of consistent begging, Carroll took to YouTube and created a song about the experience. 11.5 million views later, the damage is greater than United Airlines could have imagined.

Susan G. Komen – When the Susan G. Komen foundation decided to drop their funding to Planned Parenthood, an organization that they had partnered with for over 5 years to provide free breast cancer screenings to low-income patients, consumers and affiliates alike decided to drop their support as well.

Rush Limbaugh – When Limbaugh called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut”, the radio host was met with angry listeners who used their facebook pages and twitter profiles to express their dissproval. According to Business Week, ten advertisers had withdrew their support as much of the pressure on advertisers had come from online activists using Twitter and Facebook to mobilize against Limbaugh.

Avoiding backlash and predicting when it will occur is no easy feat. Brands will need to adopt a level of humility and respond to consumer complaints in a timely manner, address matters privately with unhappy consumers and report results to their social networks. Consumers that feel their opinions are valued by a brand won’t turn into a PR nightmare. Conversely, a brands response and attention to their needs could result in converting that consumer into an ambassador that will go to bat for your brand when a crisis does occur.

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