11 ways to stop an online issue turning into a PR disaster

“Don’t roll online without protection.” That was the message from Gerry McCusker, online reputation management expert at Engage ORM. 

McCusker roared into the SocialBiz conference held in Melbourne yesterday on his custom-fitted motorbike. 

He wouldn’t ride on his bike without protective gear and insurance, and McCusker says your business shouldn’t be on social media without an online reputation management plan.

And don’t even think about handing over your social media responsibilities to the most junior person in your business.

“Getting a uni graduate who knows how to comment, blog, pin, post, tweet does not an effective online issues management plan constitute,” McCusker says.

“Like bored babies at art galleries, they are not interested in the big picture. They just don’t have the seasoned communications nous to stop a small online drama turning into a big PR crisis.” 

So what should your business do when a problem starts to snowball online?

McCusker has 11 tips:

1. Get together your social media response team. You’ll need to have one first. Identify the people in your business who should be involved immediately.

2. Face the facts. Your social media monitoring should alert you to a helicopter view of the issue and talk to you about the context not just the incident.

3. You have to become emotional. Organisations don’t do emotions very well, traditionally, but you need to respond with emotionally intelligent responses.

4. You have to get humble. Remember the three Rs: express regret, take responsibility or distance yourself from responsibility and participate in remedial action.

5. Understand your influence and reaction. Consider whether participating in dialogue will positively inform or painfully inflate the debate. Think about who your business has ticked off. Where are your competitors trying to ‘diss’ you online and steal your customers? Who are the neurotics? Who are the legitimates – the people your business has pissed off because you previously thought you could get away with it?

6. Sort it or shut it. If you do sort it out let everyone in that stakeholder group know how well you sorted it.

7. There is no debating in a madhouse. Don’t engage in a situation where you can’t have a rational argument. 

8. Search engine optimise all your social assets. It’s an undercooked side of social media engagement. Make sure all your hashtags and metadata are up to date and current.

9. Language and tone are important. You must mind your language in a crisis situation and make sure the tone of voice is conciliatory and open. Don’t get uptight in a crisis situation. Too many businesses start speaking to lawyers and get nervous, which means they run the risk of coming across as arrogant on social media.  

10. Become an authority in a topic. Bring all your social assets together in a one page view. You need an asset like that prepped and ready to go live in the event of a crisis. 

11. Stay flexible. Remain loose and open to change. You have to make sure your monitoring is telling you whether the messages you are putting out are having the desired effect, or are attitudes changing? Don’t stop communicating because you think you have sorted through that little disaster. 

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