What to do when social media blows up in your face

‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,”
“If–” – Rudyard Kipling

It is a tall order to not descend into fury when the mob is calling for blood. However, when that mob is your social media audience and it’s calling for your blood, keeping your head is a must.

Here are some tips if you ever come under fire:

• Be professional at all times. Do not lose your temper online. Do not engage in name-calling.
• Respond as quickly as possible, but do not retaliate. You can respond in a timely manner, and still calm down first. See what has folks upset and why. Try to understand the situation fully.
• If it’s a customer complaint about a product or service, try to get it out of the public eye as soon as possible. If you cannot contact the person directly, ask the commenter to contact you by email or instant messaging.
• If an apology is in order, do not cop out with an explanation. Please don’t use “if we offended anyone.” If you hadn’t offended anyone, you wouldn’t be posting an apology. Be succinct and sincere, offering solutions.
• Explain how you are addressing the problem and blast that out on all your social media outlets, as well as news releases, blogs, internal communications and your website.
• Mind your language. Yes, that means no profanity, but it also means no name-calling or snarkiness. You’re trying to put out fires, so don’t go pouring gasoline on them and expect any good results.
• Have someone else, someone you trust, read the post first. There’s a reason why it takes at least two people with keys to launch nuclear missiles; it’s to prevent disaster. If someone else is doing your posting, make sure you see it before it’s posted.
• Never drink and post. Actually, that’s a good overall rule for everyone and one that, if followed, could have saved many jobs and relationships. However, for the person with the launch codes to the company account, it’s often too easy to post on the wrong account when you’re sober.

Your best bet is to stay out of trouble. Sure you can be edgy, but don’t be callous. Humor is a great tool, at the right time. Ridicule, even of competitors, is not professional and will quickly backfire on you.

Responding to news can be tricky. Sending your condolences and prayers to hurricane victims falls flat when you close with an ad. Unless it’s part of your business, taking any side in politics can be dangerous and draw fire from the opposition.

It’s an excellent idea to have written guidelines. They won’t cover every problem, but it’s a start. In it, you can set down what you want your social media persona to be and how you want to be viewed on the Internet. Depending on your business or inclinations, you could include a list of banned words or phrases. You could also list topics that must be avoided. Again, this manual will not work in all cases, but it will serve as the basis for what your online presence is all about.

Finally, who does your posting? Is it the intern, because you don’t understand the whole social media thing, don’t want to and don’t want to hire anyone to do it? Is it a staff member who is good with words and can manage time well enough to add that to current duties? Do you have a full-time social media coordinator on staff? Do you pay professionals to handle your accounts? Do you do it yourself? Final question: do you trust the future of your business to the people who have your passwords? That answer better be “yes” because your company’s future could be riding on every social media post.

If you’re uneasy about your answer to that last question, there is a solution. No, it’s not to drop out of social media entirely. Turn to the pros. Get some professional guidance in developing your online persona and training in making it happen. The easiest and safest way to go is to turn it all over to the pros, who will work with you to develop the online presence you want and make it happen. Professional handling of your social media account can make it rock and make it pay.

Whatever course you choose, keep calm, keep your head and you’ll keep your good reputation intact.

Written by Lee Dunkelberg  

Lee Dunkelberg has 40 years experience in journalism, public relations and entertainment. His documentaries and reporting have won several awards. His public relations experience began as a congressional press aide, but he has since recovered.

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