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Use social media – but do so advisedly

Rosemary Wynne

Nearly 2.1bn people have social media accounts, and many of these engage on an online social platform on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

Businesses often realise the value of social media channels as a means to cost-effectively promote products or to socially interact with customers, yet few consider how to prevent or handle a social media disaster. It does not take much; a badly-timed tweet, an inappropriate image, and before you know it, you have a social media crisis on your hands.

Social media crises are on the rise, because despite this being one of the most powerful and direct means to build relationships and create new customers, the responsibility of managing social media within an organisation is often handed to the youngest member of the team. These frontline employees are ill-equipped and inexperienced in knowing how to respond to opportunities on social media in real time, while appropriately reflecting brand values.

Knowing how to communicate your brand values effectively and at the right time across the various channels should be an integral component of any digital strategy. Furthermore, multinational brands launching in various countries need to consider any cultural differences, and adapt their social media communications accordingly. Not having a strategy in place can lead to costly mistakes.

According to a survey conducted by Bluehill Research, on average a company loses US$3.5m (£2.3m) from one social media mistake. It is not just the cost of reputational damage but the direct financial loss due to loss of revenue, possible loss in stock value, and in some unfortunate cases the cost of litigation. A small mistake on social media can lead to serious consequences, as many brands have discovered. McDonalds, H&M, MasterCard, Sainsbury’s, British Airways and even Donald Trump are just some examples of brands that have experienced the backlash of the viral power of social media.

Following are some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ to mitigate the risk of a social media crisis:

Do:

■ Be personal and engaging.

■ Have a clear social media strategy with clear measurable objectives.

■ Establish a corporate social media policy for employees of what can and cannot be shared on social media.

■ Create an editorial content calendar.

■ Identify the most relevant social media channel for your target audience, and stick to it.

■ Post consistently.

■ Research mistakes other brands have made and learn from them.

Don’t:

■ Use #trend without understanding the context.

■ Limit social media to traditional business hours – social media is ongoing 24/7, so be prepared to respond at any time.

■ Make it all about promotion; users want useful insights, news and information.

■ Ignore complaints or questions.

■ Engage in contentious issues unless you have a clear strategy.

■ Ask customers to share brand experiences unless you are ready for the whole truth.

■ Use the same message across all channels; know your audience and what works best across different platforms.