Learning from Harvey Norman: Seven tips for smart social media

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Corporate social media can go wrong in lots of ways, but the good news is that most can be set right by quickly taking responsibility and humbly pledging to fix any harm caused. 

Last week we saw what happens when social media can go really wrong when retail giant Harvey Norman’s social media team created an uproar, first with their response to sustained criticism on Twitter of its workplace relations practices, and then when they decided to deal with it by blocking its critics, and then abruptly deleting their Twitter account. 

It’s an object lesson in how not to run a corporate social media account and it very quickly became a public relations disaster that business owners and brands can learn from. 

I’ve been at the coalface of social media for over a decade, as an influencer and owner of two businesses including a digital marketplace that connects brands with talent.

Here are my key tips for not ending up in the social media hall of shame:

Policies and procedures

Take the time and/or expense to draw up a comprehensive set of social media protocols covering everything from your corporate tone of voice, training on diversity issues, product training, writing skills, checking and verification procedures and, of course, a robust set of crisis communication protocols. Do employ or contract social media professionals who are diligent and detail-focused; don’t handball upkeep of the social media accounts to the intern or work experience student.

Live your brand values

Know the values your brand stands for, and reflect them in every post and public interaction. For most brands, that will mean prompt and friendly responses, at the minimum. Understand your brand voice, whether that’s cool, mysterious, earnest or fun. Don’t feed the trolls; respond politely, but don’t engage.

Take care out there

With almost exponential reach — especially if something goes wrong — social media is arguably as important to your brand as a television ad or billboard. Put time, thought, effort and assets into it, and it can reward your investment many times over. Post without proper processes and you could be famous for all the wrong reasons.

Err on the side of caution

By understanding your brand values, you should know what the ‘hot-button’ topics in your industry are, and familiarise yourself with the general news cycle. Posting in support of ‘Black Lives Matter’ might seem like a great corporate stance but if you don’t understand the issues and nuances, it can rapidly come back to bite you. Do your homework or better still, don’t do it.

Respect, honesty, transparency

Treat your customers and anyone on your social media channels with respect. You might not like their opinions but responding with honesty and transparency — which might include following up issues and getting a response — will always win more fans and new customers than dismissal, neglect or sarcasm.

Own your mistakes on social media

Mistakes happen and when they do, it’s important to get on the front foot and own it, as fashionista Pip Edwards did when she posted a photo of an upside-down Aboriginal flag. On the same day she appeared to contradict herself by saying the Australia Day public holiday should not be celebrated, before posting pictures of herself at an Australia Day party. Taken together, it was a bit of a disaster for the P.E Nation founder and owner, but she quickly apologised and took full responsibility for the errors, averting additional scrutiny or further brand damage that would have come from offering excuses or trying to duck the issue.

Think it through

It’s tempting to respond to criticism — especially when it feels unjustified — by blocking the user or deploying sarcastic emojis, which only fans the flames of outrage further. Of course there will always be genuine trolls to block, but maintaining a respectful and helpful tone and steering clear of the ‘block’ button is a more dignified and classy approach.

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