How to Recover From a Social Media Mistake

Managing a company's social reputation requires media-savvy strategies -- especially in a crisis, says global digital strategist Dallas Lawrence

IT professionals today are pulled in multiple directions as companies big and small scramble to fully leverage the capabilities of the online marketplace. As teams and individuals who largely served as the go-to technological wizards for everything from Web development to hardware support over the past decade are already beginning to discover, too often companies new to the social space look to their existing internal technology teams to develop and guide their foray into social media.

Despite best intentions, in many cases, those who played early critical roles in previous technology acquisitions and advances are ill-prepared and uninitiated in the nuances of effective social engagement. For many of the same reasons a new home builder wouldn't ask an architect to also serve as interior designer, it's crucial to understand the unique skill sets and insights needed as companies continue to integrate social and digital media programs into nearly every aspect of their business.

Social Media Considerations

To avoid making a major social media mistake, companies rethinking their internal social media programs need to consider three key areas:

1. Governance:

Social media aren't stagnant "build and forget" platforms, so it's important for those entrusted with managing these messages and communities to be given resources and clear governance of the rapidly changing platforms. According to a PRWeek report, more than a third of all companies don't have a point person responsible for social media within the organization. However, companies need to establish clear ownership and governance of the social space -- in times of proactive outreach and in times of crisis.

2. Guidance:

Smart companies are developing focused training programs to fully leverage the brand ambassadorial power of their workforce. Despite the opportunities and potential threats of employee efforts online, three-quarters of those surveyed by PRWeek have no social media training program for their employees.

3. Guardrails:

The key role corporate social media programs often play is establishing clear guardrails for what is appropriate and what is out of bounds. This protects the business's online reputation and ensures positive social growth.

Facing up to a Social Media Mistake

Even the most socially-savvy companies can stumble. And by the way some respond to missteps, it's clear they don't have anyone monitoring their online reputation and taking responsibility for every post across all social media platforms.

Ten years ago, companies had days to craft a carefully researched and well-vetted response to breaking news and potential crises. But with the speed of information today, the public expects faster response times. Those who are untrained might in a panic release incorrect information or move too slow and find that the online narrative has been crafted by their detractors before they even had a chance to engage.

Many companies make things even worse by failing to own up to a mistake quickly and honestly. They feel they need to have 100 percent of the information before engaging online in times of crisis or error. This analysis paralysis can make the difference between having the public believe you are sincere or that you're the villain in an unfolding online narrative. In the minutes and hours following a recognized social media mistake, companies must act quickly to accept responsibility and tell the community what is being done to identify the problem and correct it.

To begin the first responses, companies don't need to have all the information right away. It's OK to tell the public you're working to discover what happened and how it happened. If you don't know what happened or why, don't pretend you do. The same rules that apply in traditional media stand here: You can make the problem much worse if you make statements you aren't sure are accurate.