Negativity on social media must be addressed urgently

BY Suganya Manivannan

The past decade or so has seen social media take over our daily lives. The advent of online media has not only led to a drastic increase in accessibility to information, it has also led to a rise in the number of communication channels between brands and consumers.

In addition, the manner in which a brand communicates with its customers has also been impacted by the rise of social media. In the past, brands were able to send public messages to consumers through traditional advertising channels but private complaints were most often addressed on a one-on-one basis.

With the transparency of social media, brickbats and bouquets have moved to a more public realm. This means that from time to time, brands can be negatively affected on social media.

Today’s brands have invested substantially on managing their online reputations. In an ideal scenario, a brand’s online presence should spread awareness, drive customer engagement and increase sales. However, due to the outspoken nature of internet savvy millennials, social media has increasingly become a place where consumers voice their displeasure.

For the most part, this can be handled internally but what should a brand do when negativity on social media threatens its reputation?

Before we continue, it is important to understand what constitutes a social media crisis. Knowing the types of crises that could surface can also be helpful in the context of planning ahead.

Typically, a social media crisis refers to any online activity that has a harmful long-term effect on a brand and its reputation. This can come in the form of a customer backlash to services, products or even advertisements – and indeed, a brand’s online presence.

Negativity on social media needs to be nipped in the bud and contained, since the ultra-large user base and speed of the internet can cause it to spread like wildfire. As a brand with an online presence, it helps to have a solid plan in place beforehand. When a social media crisis erupts, the first reaction is often panic. To avert this, it helps to have a plan to counter a crisis should the need arise.

Secondly, it is important to act fast. As discussed earlier, negative publicity can spread rapidly so prompt action can minimise the damage considerably.

To establish a strong crisis management plan, you need to first identify the types of social media crises that can arise. The most common social media crises usually relate to product and delivery issues.

Fortunately, this is the easiest crisis to prepare for since it’s usually a direct result of an internal problem, which can be fairly easy to address.

Most often, public acknowledgement of the issue at hand and a rectification is sufficient to minimise the damage. Not surprisingly however, this works on a case-by-case basis. But whatever the case, as a rule of thumb, whenever an issue is addressed on a public platform, it should be resolved then and there.

In such cases, if the problem has arisen due to mismanagement, it can also be considered a lesson to strengthen the brand. Remember that consumers are likely to forgive a mistake if it happens once… not many times. Resolve the issue internally to avoid it becoming part of the brand’s identity.

The second type of social media crisis occurs when there are areas of technical weaknesses. These are usually caused by existing smouldering issues that have been ignored. In an ideal scenario, these issues should have been addressed at an earlier stage but in most cases, they don’t receive attention until a crisis hits.

As for dealing with such a situation, a proactive approach is called for. Work backwards and determine the root cause of the problem. And as in the first type of crisis, public acknowledgement of the problem and a solid action plan will assure the outside world that the brand is serious about rectifying its mistakes.

The first two types of social media crises are easily containable as they can be foreseen and planned for. However, the last type of social media crisis is trickier to deal with. This is because it often comes out of the blue, leaving the brand little time to prep for it. This type of crisis is often caused by a product or campaign that doesn’t deliver on its promises or as a result of events beyond the brand’s control.

When this happens, it is important for the brand to accept its mistake and apologise in public. It also helps to respond to customers in a timely manner to regain and then maintain their trust going forward.

In conclusion, the key to handling a social media crisis lies in transparency. Apologise, rectify and move on – it’s as simple as that! In a nutshell, the manner in which you handle a crisis speaks volumes for the brand and will determine how it is perceived.