Reputation risk is a common barrier for brands who are considering building their social media plan. These are the questions that clients often ask me:
- Will engaging in social media encourage people to say negative things about me?
- How will I respond to negative comments?
- How long do I have to respond?
- What happens if I ignore them?
In this post, I'll summarize the advice I typically give to clients who are worried about their online reputation. Whilst I was planning this post, I also had a look around for external references and would recommend reading the excellent www.reputationmanagement.com if you want further advice. Useful articles include:
So, here are my top tips for dealing with comments in social media:
1) Make sure that you have a social media policy. Have a clear policy on use of social media by your staff and make sure that it is in your employment contracts. Typically, organisations state whether employees can use personal devices at work and whether they can look at social media sites when they are working, but, your policy needs to go further than that. Clearly state what they can and cannot say about their work in their personal social accounts. Your confidentiality clauses will cover you against them giving away company secrets and they are also governed by laws on libel and slander. Make sure you make it clear if you have any other restrictions.
2) Allow your staff to use social media at work! It is hard to police anyway, but don't stop them using social media. You should encourage them. Only by regular use will they get used to the conventions and nuances of social media use. The best way to learn is to expose yourself to what others are doing. Encourage your team to follow industry experts, journalists, competitors and customers on social media (particularly Twitter) as there is no better way of them staying up to date with what is happening in your industry.
3) Build a social media response policy for your social media teams. Who is allowed to respond to what type of comment or post? When do they escalate up to more senior management? How quickly are they expected to respond? What happens when they see a tweet late at night and feel like they should respond? The answers to these questions make up my next tips!
4) Have a defined list of approved social media responders. They should be trained and briefed on your policies. The day to day management can be done by a social media executive in your comms team or a customer services manager, but make sure they know who they refer issues up to if they are more serious. You also need an approved list of social media creators / authors too, for your pro-active posts.
5) To help your social media team decide when to escalate an issue to more senior management, have a process for identifying different levels of incident. Here is an example of a 5 step incident level categorization. Your social media team can deal with levels 1 & 2, but they may need to refer incidents from level 3 up to a more senior member of the team.
6) If you do receive a negative comment, then here are some simple steps to help you to decide how to respond:
- Respond by acknowledging the incident straight away, but don't admit blame
- Investigate whether their complaint is true and genuine
- Try to take all conversations off line. Do not have a debate in a public forum, use private messaging on Twitter or Facebook Messenger to discuss comments with individuals and / or encourage them to call or email you.
- Once the issue is resolved, then if you feel it is necessary, put a public response onto the comment, so others can see it has been dealt with e.g. "Thank you for your comment, I hope that you are satisfied now that we have spoken to you directly". Hopefully, they will reply and say thank you, which will make you look caring and professional to other followers.
- Don't be afraid to invite negative posters to make suggestions on how the problem could be solved or how service could be improved, but do this in a private channel and share their ideas if you think they are helpful to others.
- Respond as quickly as possible as waiting will invite further negative comments, but do not respond until you have a solution or can help. Most accounts are manned during office hours, so say on your user profile which hours comments will be responded to and don't try to respond late at night when you are away from work.
- Ignoring negative comments is not a good idea. It tends to make the poster more determined to get their point across and escalate it in other forums, so try to respond to everyone as quickly as you can within working hours.
7) Invest in a social media sentiment tracking tool - there are some free tools like www.socialmention.com and some better premium services like Sysomos and Radian6. Reputation Management have their tools too. If you have the budget for the premium tools, you will get more accurate sentiment analysis, but beware, they are certainly not perfect at the sentiment analysis, so you'll need some manual checking too.
I hope this has been helpful. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts too. Or if you'd like me to talk to your business about developing your policy or training your staff, then i'd be delighted to help.