How to handle social media in a crisis

Tesco has been at heart of the horsemeat in Burgers scandalIt’s been a tough few weeks for the companies involved in the  ‘horsemeat in burgers’ crisis, especially after the onslaught of criticism received over the way the Twitterati has been handled.

But what do you do if you’re suddenly caught up in a national issue on Twitter and how do you best  handle an angry customer on Facebook?

It’s amazing how many companies still insist on day-to-day messages being signed off before posting on the social sphere.  Frustrating for the marketing person at the very least who has to contend with the backlash of comments about the company being slow to reply with stale, corporate messages.

If this sounds familiar then suggest a guide which the marketing and communications (comms) team can refer to. It’s not a ‘you have to say this and do that’ but a framework to give a rough steer on using social media appropriately. Hopefully this will give enough reassurance to those at the top to let you get on with things.

If there’s a major issue then it’s fine to get a corporate statement signed off and posted, which outlines the company’s position on the matter,  but it’s the individual messages that need that personal touch.

The good thing about an issue is that it generates a lot of  buzz online. But people – and I include marketing professionals as well as customers –  are bored of seeing the same corporate style messages. Where appropriate, drive traffic to visual sites likes Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube and you’ll really grab their attention to help set the record straight.

They say a picture tells a 1000 words so boards containing videos, pictures etc. work well on Pinterest. Or create a video on YouTube or a playlist on Spotify. Record a company podcast and upload it to SoundCloud (you could include a guest or invite customer feedback).  And you never know, your message may even go viral.

Of course there’s always that small handful of people that you’ll never get onside.  But by using every opportunity possible to learn more about your customer then you can continue to improve the way you engage with them.

Think of using tactics that you normally use proactively, to discover more about your unhappy customers like access to discounts, free merchandise, newsletters or surveys in exchange for data.  Perhaps there’s an issue with a product or service and you’ve since launched an upgraded version that’s better? If so, send them a link to a free trial of the new product, asking for feedback at the same time.

Humour and humility works well with sites like Twitter and Facebook but make sure it’s used at the right times.

Once you’ve had a chance to breath, analyse and measure your social media activity. Here’s the questions I tend to ask on behalf of clients. What’s being said online about the brand? How has this changed over time and is there a change in mood? Are you reaching customer’s successfully to get the outcome you need?

Do a quick check on people commenting on you business and not just those that are @ing you on Twitter. It seems obvious but it’s amazing how many companies forget.

There are web analytic tools that will delve deep into where your customers are online, how they behave and how to best reach them. Facebook has a basic analytic tool or there are third party analytics platforms that provide a much richer pool of data.

Overall, don’t be tempted to ‘Hit the Hay’ and ignore a bad situation. With social media, it’s best to just get stuck right in.

Sharron Elkabas is co-Director of I’m Socialized. You can follow him on twitter @im_socialized.