This is Part 2 of Marty Smith’s post for companies who are afraid of social media.  

Here, he’s sharing how organisations can act to help prevent a crisis blowing up on the Internet in the first place. 

Marty is a generous guy who freely shares his expertise. In case you don’t know, he is also a cancer survivor who rode a bike across the US to raise funds for research.

Let’s say Thank You by visiting his fundraising site, Martin’s Ride to Cure Cancer, donating if you want to, and by ‘Liking’ the Cure Cancer Store he’s building on Facebook. 

Marty’s post

People who complain want to be heard and recognized, so give them a place on your site to be heard and recognized. Speed of response is important. Non-judgmental responses work best.

The key question companies must ask is, “Is this problem an outlier or a sign of a greater issue?”

Outliers happen, but outliers in a pattern are problems requiring tweaks to business processes and procedures. Outliers in a pattern may also indicate you don’t have the right people in the right seats on the bus. Suspend judgment, be capable of holding two contradictory ideas in your mind at once (we are a great customer-oriented company and we may have an issue greater than this single outlier) and be appreciative and human. You may gain your strongest supporters by converting a negative reviewer to a positive supporter (read Turn Negative Reviews Into Money on ScentTrail Marketing for more).

Steps to avoid a crisis in the first place

Visualize scenarios, create plans

You can’t anticipate every crazy thing, but you can practice your company’s reaction to bad news. Don’t limit practice to your brands. Google wants your company to be an authority. The most important idea to becoming a content authority is to think and act less proprietarily. If something happens in your industry weigh in. If something happens in the world share how it may impact your industry.

Before you practice social media hopscotch know and share your company’s guiding values.

Next create an internal Social Media Content Guide defining what kind of information goes where and possibly with what frequency. Each social net has implied “rules of the road” so be aware of the declared terms and unwritten but understood “best practices” (or hire someone who is) when setting your content guide:

Social Media Content Guide

Facebook – 2x daily – Questions, polls and comments within guidelines
Twitter – 10x daily – Links to other industry authorities and 50% self-promotion
Google+ – 2x daily – Long-form content, polls and hangouts – 2x daily – Magazine-like posts on X, Y and Z.

Develop guidelines for community content standards and publish those “rules of the road” on each platform. If it is difficult to publish your community standards on a platform such as Twitter provide a link on your profile page or post an image with your “rules of the Twitter road”.

Publishing usage guidelines for any social network your company uses create latitude and direction in a crisis. If you remove content without published guidelines you risk amplifying a PR crisis. The Internet sees cover-ups everywhere, so avoid making a bad situation worse.

Be authentic

Online authenticity means thinking about values, publishing your thoughts and standing by them even when it is tough to do so. Values are tested at every level of your company in almost every minute of every day. Your company is only as authentic as your weakest link.

JetBlue have a “Customer Bill of Rights” on their website. Good idea, but adding an “Employee Bill of Rights” created in tandem with their flight attendants and ground personnel would be a better idea.

Creating an Employee Bill of Rights speaks to potential hires and customers. Customers are smart. We know the best chance we have to be served well is if employees feel good about their employer.  Authentic means you face problems head on, listen well and change when needed.

Authentic doesn’t mean defensive or unchanging. Authentic doesn’t mean you share everything all the time, but it does mean your culture doesn’t seek to hide, avoid or belittle.

The most authentic thing we do is admit our humanity, define how we plan to improve and share almost more than is appropriate.

Hire the right people

In another great  book, Good To Great, Jim Collins writes how great companies know how to get the right people in the right seats on the bus. Your brand’s best protection is to hire the right people.

Companies such as e-retailer Zappos and home cleaning supplies manufacturer Method Home conduct rigorous multi-part interviews before hiring. Zappos even offers to pay employees to leave if, after 90 days, they aren’t a true believer in the Zappos way. When every employee is a social touchstone, hiring the right employees has never been more critical.

Stay calm, carry on

Social media happens whether your company is participating or not. Since we are past the social media tipping point, your company needs to join the social media marketing revolution. This post has outlined several important Online Reputation Management (ORM) safety tips, but the most important idea is to stay calm and carry on.

Bad things happen online for capricious reasons. Internet marketing’s zen is to let go of ideas such as “being right” and embrace ideas such as empathy, care, magic and joy.

Most companies’ social media glasses are more than half full with good things. JetBlue, even at the height of their employee meltdown crisis, stayed calm, didn’t lose their sense of the strange humor of it all and carried on. Because of JetBlue’s calm strength and history of service, customers rushed to their defense.

If your VP or President frets over social media and is incapable of staying calm and carrying on then start a job search. How your company reacts to social media is a Darwinian sign. If they embrace, fail and keep moving on social media, hang around and learn stuff. If your boss or company wants to be in control at all times and they aren’t willing to embrace social media marketing then read Seth Godin’s excellent career advice book The Dip.  You may be at a dead end, not in the middle of a dip.

No matter what, stay calm and carry on.

Photo shows Marty during his Ride to Cure Cancer

Martin Smith
In summer 2010, Martin rode a bicycle across America to raise awareness and solicit donations for cancer research raising $30,000. His next cycling goal is to complete the Tour de France route in six weeks in 2015.
Martin leads Atlantic BT's team of Internet marketing specialists working with clients to solve Internet marketing business problems.
He is a serious blogger. His Facebook and Social Media Marketing post on Technorati has been seen by over a million people.

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