Setting Your Company’s Social Media Policy Can Prevent a Disaster Online

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Anyone reading this post is, by definition, a blog reader. You may also be a blogger in your own right. Odds are you have a Facebook account as well, since there are 500 million Facebook users and counting. If you follow us on Twitter, then you probably follow many other companies and people as well. All of this encompasses using social media to promote either a personal or company brand.

But are you prepared to defend that brand, especially when your critics are attacking you using the same social media tools you’ve come to embrace?

Maybe this has happened to you, maybe not; but that does not mean it won’t. For all the personal consequences of online criticism, the repercussions for a small business can be devastating. You’re natural instinct will be to counter-attack, to meet your critics head-on. In some cases this is the right response, in most cases it will only aggravate the situation — and cost your more influence (and money) in the long run.

That’s why Backupify strongly supports implementing a social media policy for your small (or large) business. Operating without a social media policy is like driving without a seatbelt; eventually it will cost you, and the consequences could be dire.

Bear in mind that an effective social media policy should not shut down social media activity in your company, but rather encourage it. This policy should also protect your business and employees from getting in trouble online with the law if confidential information is leaked, a subpoena is issued, or an eDiscovery request comes about.

Since social media for corporate marketing is fairly new, most companies fail to think about a social media policy until it is too late. If someone is planning on targeting your company and you do not have a policy in place, you will find yourself very unprepared and taken off guard.

Before you know it, the bad news will hit the headlines.

Did you know that blogs and blog comments tend to rank high in Google search results? If you are verbally attacked on a blog post, you can almost guarantee that it will show up on the first page of results for your company which can permanently damaging your company’s reputation.

If you wait too long to respond, that looks bad. If you respond poorly, that can only escalate the issue. However, if you have a social media policy in place, you can prepare for these events and respond in a timely and appropriate manner.

Here are three ways to respond to a negative attack online:

1. Acknowledge the comment and then switch to a positive aspect of your company. If they attack one aspect of your company, respond to that and then move onto an example of how you are helping clients or doing good for the community. You can also ask to handle this issue privately with the person so as to appear professional while not causing a ruckus.

2. Delete a comment. If someone posts a really rude or innapropriate comment (such as using slander, swear words, or derogatory comments) you can tell readers that the comment has been deleted, as it violates your company’s policy (and perhaps link to or quote the policy statement).

3. Ignore the comment. This option can be a risky one. On one hand, staying silent may allow the issue to settle down quicker since you are not firing back, but silence can also make your company look guilty and weak. Anyone who knows a bit about public relations knows that in most situations, silence is not the best answer.

Having a social media policy in place will help you to:

1. Respond appropriately to particular attacks

2. Have the right messaging at hand

3. Know who to hand certain queries or comments to and who is responsible for particular issues

4. Give strict guidelines of what to do and not to do

5. Outline what can be said about the company online

6. Disseminate personal social media usage rights while at work

7. Explain the disclaimer policy required by employees when discussing the company online to others

Always keep in mind that you have an audience. If you send out a negative tweet, rant about a competitor on your blog, or leave a nasty response to a Facebook post, it will be seen. Your employees must remain professional and calm in all situations in order to appropriately mediate the situation quickly. Having a social media policy in place can ensure this.

When developing your company’s social media policy, understand that there should be zero tolerance for all negative and derogatory comments from employees online. This also needs to be balanced with ways to encourage people to act proactively and positively online to engage with customers and leads.

You need to always have a social media policy and backup plan in place to prepare for any type of online activity that may occur, good or bad.

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  • http://twitter.com/mysocialpolicy Vivienne Storey

    Great post Kristin and some useful links for people interested in social media policies. One key point we also make to our clients is the importance of training employees on their social media policy on an ongoing basis. This area is changing so rapidly that training is a key way of ensuring employees keep up with developments.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the addition, Vivienne! That is a great point. If employees lag in policy changes and social media changes then the policy is almost pointless to have in the first place.

    Kristin

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  • http://www.alexandergieg.org Alexander Gieg

    I’ve found that many times, if not most of them, the “acknowledge and switch” technique isn’t really enough to defuse a problem. If a client has a real problem, or even an imagined one, with your company, it’s best to apologize outright and even ask him in which ways you could improve in the future. That’ll set your company apart in the eyes of everyone reading as one that actually cares for the customer. And if you really aren’t guilty, you can show that to be the case down the line. In all cases, though (or at least most of them), apologize first, and work out the details later on.

  • http://www.policyforsocialmedia.com Deborah Chaddock Brown

    Thanks for the post. I agree with Alexander that acknowledge and switch doesn’t work. Rather acknowledge and resolve. Social media is a wonderful way to connect with customers. We are going to make mistakes. But as a company if we are actively listening to what is being said and provide timely responses – we’ll actually increase our credibility. Customers don’t expect perfection but they do expect results. Having a policy for social media is critical. I have written a manual for small businesses who want the guidelines for appropriate participation but don’t have the HR department to create. I hope you’ll visit http://www.policyforsocialmedia.com. Thanks Deborah

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Deborah!

  • Anonymous

    Alexander, you are right. I was speaking more in terms of a PR perspective as that is one of the options for responding to an online crisis. At Backupify, you may have noticed that no matter what the issue (good or bad) we acknowledge and respond. If it is a good response from a customer, we express our happiness. If it is a problem a customer is having, we ensure to fix it immediately for them and attempt to remediate the response. I hope this answers your comment and sorry for not being as thorough that point as I should have been.

    Kristin

  • http://www.alexandergieg.org Alexander Gieg

    Thank you. I noticed now my usage of “your” and “you” in my previous comment might be understood as meaning Backupify, which wasn’t my intention. I meant them to be generic, referring to any company. A better way for me to word it would be by using “a” instead. Well, mistakes of one whose primary language isn’t English. Here’s an updated version:

    “I’ve found that many times, if not most of them, the “acknowledge and switch” technique isn’t really enough to defuse a problem. If a client has a real problem, or even an imagined one, with a company, it’s best for that company to apologize outright and even ask him in which ways it could improve in the future. That’ll set the company apart in the eyes of everyone reading as one that actually cares for the customer. And if the company really isn’t guilty, it can show that to be the case down the line. In all cases, though (or at least most of them), apologize first, and work out the details later on.”

    By the way, I’m extremely happy with Backupify so far. Yours’ an outstanding service! :-)

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Alex! I completely agree. Glad you’re happy too, that’s what matters most to us :)

    Kristin

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