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You may not be able to avoid a social media scandal.

That is a fact. Now deal with it.

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The recent news of the man who bought promoted tweets to complain about an airline is a sharp reminder that social media makes it extremely easy for a customer’s opinions to go viral. Yet instead of living in fear that a couple of tweets could damage your business, you should look at the positive side of social media and answer the crucial question: How can you use social media to manage concerns and better understand your customers?

By now, your company has probably created a plan to attract and engage fans and followers. You are engaging through multiple social channels, working with the latest content marketing techniques, and gearing up for your biggest seasonal social campaigns to date (after all, Christmas is the time for consuming). But through all of these efforts, what have you learned about your social fans and followers that will truly prepare you to handle a social media scandal?

If you can’t answer this question, you’ll find these five tips to prepare for social media scandals extremely helpful:

1) Know Your Customers: In retail, personalization can deliver a five to eight times increase in ROI on marketing spend and lift sales 10 percent or more (McKinsey & Company). Meanwhile, 61 percent of online shoppers say they would trade privacy for more personalized offers from retailers (Accenture). But the benefits of knowing your customers go beyond retail to every industry. Your company should be able to quickly and easily gain insight into a customer’s interests and demographics.

2) Listen: Collecting, analyzing and converting social insights into business benefits can only happen with effective “social listening.” The information that people share in social – from demographics to their unique “Likes” and interests — gives you the power to target and personalize your approach across all of your marketing, communications, and customer service efforts. For example, T-Mobile’s T-FORCE team and their strategy of “Listen.Engage.Resolve.” is continuously listening and responding to all mentions of their brand. There are a number of tools available to help companies “listen.” When evaluating which tools will help your company you should consider your company’s audience, your objective, how you’ll measure success, the bandwidth of your team to use the tools and how many of your customers use social media on a regular basis.

3) Respond. Quickly: There’s no time to have an internal email exchange as to how the situation should be responded to, or wait until a committee has made a decision. You should already have processes and procedures in place. Execute on them and calibrate as you progress. In 2009, United Airlines learned the hard way how waiting too long to respond to a customer can lead to disaster. Canadian musician Dave Carroll created a song “United Breaks Guitars” after his guitar was broken during a trip on the airline. The song became an immediate YouTube and iTunes hit when it was released. The creator of this viral song said that his fruitless negotiations with the airline for compensation lasted nine months. Therefore, he posted a video to voice his frustration – which now has more than 13 million views. This story is a classic example of how unpredictable customers can be, and how quickly companies need to act.

4) Be Human: It’s true that technology can drastically improve customer service, but it doesn’t mean that people want to chat with a robot. Companies are increasingly replacing their human operators with automated phone menus and other high-tech systems. A few firms, including eBay, have eliminated customer phone service altogether. This presents an opportunity for companies to add a human touch to social media, and rapidly connect with customers in a personal way.

5) Train Your Team: Have a Social Media Swat team which models various types of social media disasters and come up with playbooks for potential scenarios. Your team should be able to adjust responses on the fly with the necessary social media listening and social engagement tools. The tools MUST be integrated with your customer relationship management systems so that you can create a holistic response to every situation.

In addition to your special Social Media Swat team, you also should have your whole company trained in social media. Many people have personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, and they should know your company’s social guidelines.

For companies embarking on a social media strategy, you should know that dealing with the unexpected is the norm and may lead to some epic fails. Fortunately, social media isn’t a one way channel, but rather a two-way dialogue that presents a unique opportunity for companies of all sizes to act small, and engage with customers on a personal level.

Read more about SAP Cloud for Social Engagement & SAP Social Media Analytics by NetBase by clicking these hyperlinks.

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6 Comments

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  1. Debra Curtis-Magley

    Smart advice Schalk. As a veteran of numerous social media crises, listening and audience familiarity are critical elements of preparedness. Without this knowledge, brands are likely to react in ways that are clumsy or insincere — which typically fuels audience indignation and amplifies issues that could have been quickly contained.

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  2. Bert Schulze

    Spoken with the wisdom of experience. Very well put toegether, Schalk. I especially like that you don´t stop at analytics but really advice on next steps.

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  3. Schalk Viljoen Post author

    thanks Debbie, Michael and Bert – it’s fun reading about social disasters (with a bit of ‘schadenfreude‘), but what really sticks out from all of these cases is how mundane the start often is.

    Its almost as if the ‘disaster’ lies in the escalation path rather than the original situation.

    So companies are measured not on whether there was a ‘disaster’ but on how they dealt with it.

      and that can be prepared …

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    1. Colin Haig

      Nice post – agree completely. In the retail industry that deals with thousands of social media interactions every day, “clever” or suggestive posts sometimes lead to unintended consequences. Certain retail companies have perhaps taken a controversial position on a newsworthy topic, and instead of building their brand, some people have reacted negatively to it.  Immediate apologies are the right answer, yet this continues to be mishandled.  As a community, we need to be really concious of the right way to prevent escalations, and address the original situation.  In some ways, it seems basic human consideration and kindness need to be applied, with a dose of common sense. Unfortunately we sometimes forget this – I know I’ve made a few mistakes in social media, and understand some of the consequences. When a big consumer brand or retailer makes the mistake, thousands of people are instantly cognizant of it, and the best way seems to be to acknowledge the mistake and speak with honesty and candor. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on how to recover from the occasional blunder.

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      1. Schalk Viljoen Post author

        Thanks Colin! Agree that common sense should prevail. And humility: “we made a mistake/ we misread the situation – this is what we are doing to fix the problem” … and that should NOT automatically mean ‘fire the employee’. That sends a whole set of different wrong messages to your employees as well as to the market. Example http://bit.ly/1eVE3It

        Oh – and full transparency. Don’t believe for a second you can keep anything a secret. So admit all, quickly. And you will be able to move on a last faster with a lot more dignity.

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