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Damage Control: Putting Out Social Media Fires

January 3, 2010

More and more, companies, nonprofits, businesses, schools, and colleges are taking advantage of social media’s interactivity:

  • Back-and-forth Twitter discussions;
  • Commenting on Facebook “walls;” and
  • Posting response videos (and comments) on YouTube

as key tools for “damage control.”

When something negative appears in a public forum such as these, the best way to neutralize the situation is to deal with it in the same way it was originally posted, or put another way, as noted by one Domino’s Pizza franchise owner,

The only way to put out a social media fire is with social media water.

He happened to see an angry Tweet about a seriously botched delivery order from his store, so he went above and beyond to make things right with the customer. And then he made sure his apology was public, on Twitter just as the original complaint had been, to minimize the PR damage (Social Media at Work contains more details about the story.)

The best ways to counter negativity about you on public forums like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube:

  • Directly engage the commenter to apologize, respond, or make things right in full view of everyone;
  • Invite/encourage other consumers/participants to leave positive comments to offset the negative;
  • Share that you are open to hearing how to improve the quality of products or services to reduce problems and complaints in the first place–then really do it!; and
  • Remove or delete the undesirable content.

Warning! That last one, though, should only be used in rare situations — it’s better to put out a fire, not just delete it, as that may signal a lack of sensitivity to customer problems or a lack of transparency…and discourage others who saw the posting. It’s better to deal with these things head on.

So, you can be sure this is where PR is headed in this new year: more companies than ever are spending on social media sites–and organizations that ignore social networking sites at this point are doing so at their peril!

A Quick Case Study

Here’s a case in point: the whole United-Breaks-Guitars debacle.

In case you didn’t hear about this, United Airlines repeatedly failed to address a customer’s complaint that their baggage handlers broke his guitar, so he posted a song about it on YouTube–and they still didn’t respond. But then it “went viral,” becoming so popular and attracting so many views that the mainstream media picked up on it, too.

How embarrassing. Suddenly United was willing to help him out after all…though a little belatedly. But the PR damage was done. And United’s stock dropped 10%–perhaps not entirely caused by this guy alone–hey, it is a bad time to be an airline!–but certainly, it didn’t help things. United could have used social media to defuse the situation, instead of letting it escalate.

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