Social media offers an opportunity to deliver exceptional customer service and build brand advocates—but it opens your company to negative exposure, too.
If you serve the public, at some point, someone will be upset about something you said, did or believe.
Count on it.
When your company engages in social media, you create more awareness for your business. Social media allows you to build your brand, enhance customer service and create advocates. But along with that expanded presence comes the potential risk of negative comments. And with social media, those comments aren’t delivered privately in an email, over the phone or face-to-face. They are out there for anyone to see—current customers, prospects, vendors and other stakeholders.
Being “Social” Has Its Risks
Understandably, you may struggle with even engaging in social media because of the potential risks. You may think that providing a platform that can fuel debate and negativity isn’t good for business.
Consider, though, that much of the reason more businesses don’t accelerate faster is because someone is afraid of risk. Taking risks goes hand in hand with growing a business.
Successful businesses try to think about risk as “calculated risk.” When viewed in that manner, risk doesn’t mean carelessly plunging into each new opportunity. It means acknowledging the fear and then weighing the advantages and disadvantages in order to make a logical decision that gives you a chance of success.
The reality is that a social strategy is a necessary part of most businesses today, even though it does carry some risk. But there’s a risk to not having a social strategy, too. Without one, customers may become bored with your product, service or program. Or, they may fail to see the “personality” behind your company that can give you an advantage over competitors. A good social strategy can open the door to new possibilities, and it can show your audience that you genuinely care about the industry, users, services or products.
When deciding on your social strategy, take the time to identify possible risks. Pinpoint the potential negatives, and form plans to put out fires if something goes wrong. By evaluating the risk in advance, you can more accurately aim for success with your social media strategy.
Community Policies and Guidelines
Social media policies and guidelines provide your business a framework to carry out your social media strategy and implement your social media tactics. They can also have a direct impact on the success of your social media endeavors.
Social media guidelines:
- Provide a way to implement your social media strategy and improve your social media performance.
- Give everyone the information they need to work together.
- Make it easier to build your social communities online.
- Make it possible to respond to emergencies before they get out of hand.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you are going to create a forum where customers can discuss anything, you should be open to allowing the discussion to be negative, but respectful. There are limits—spam, swearing and hate posts, for example, are items that you will likely want to restrict. You need to be clear about the rules of the forum. Your community guidelines should clearly state your policies about the kinds of posts that will be deleted.
If you decide to allow negative discussion on your social accounts, you still must monitor any negative comments about your business, because a crisis can grow very fast. It is important to know how and when to respond to any social media attack and have your action guidelines ready to respond to a negative situation before something gets out of hand.
A negative comment about your business can range from a simple complaint to a post made by someone who is so upset they have gone off the deep-end trying to make sure you and the rest of the world knows the anger they feel. How you respond is key, not only to addressing the concerns of the angry person but to retaining the goodwill of others who read the post.
Here are some keys to remember:
- Respond no matter what.
- Be patient and understanding.
- Contact the person privately.
- Respond back to the original post.
- Do not remove negative posts or comments.
- Let your community respond.
As a very last resort, block unreceptive and blatantly hostile posters.
Who Interacts on Your Behalf?
Your response team should have both social media and business expertise. You will need to delegate enough resources to maintain an ongoing presence on your social sites.
On one hand, the people interacting on behalf of your company must be knowledgeable of various legal terms and what they mean in your business environment. They also need to be aware of global implications of your online communication and avoid inappropriate comments about competitors or others online.
On the other hand, they must also remain positive, be helpful, add value and be transparent. Those individuals must be entrusted with cultivating relationships and building community on your social media profiles.
It is not always easy to balance all these criteria, especially for those who are new to social media.
Big Companies vs. Small Companies
Most big companies have existing communication policies, and those guidelines should also apply to social media communications.
Smaller companies, unlike their larger counterparts, may not have comprehensive communication guidelines that cover a variety of possibilities. They might just need one well-crafted set of guidelines, some good judgment and an understanding of social media and the company’s online strategies.
Where smaller companies tend to go wrong is thinking they don’t need social media guidelines at all. Smaller companies can benefit greatly from having them though. Social media guidelines will:
- Keep them focused on their social media strategy.
- Permit them to benchmark their progress and better evaluate what to do next.
- Let them better manage the time they invest in social media.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
The easiest thing you can do to help you create social media guidelines is to research other companies like yours. Reach out to those social managers and ask them questions. Secretly, every social manager wants to feel that “celebrity” status.
The best part is that the more you engage on social media, the more you will learn. Don’t be afraid to break something. Seeking input or feedback can help you tweak your guidelines from time-to-time to fit in with how your company communicates and the changing trends. Be excited for the discovery process and the implementation of your community guidelines—you can only reap the benefits.