Reading, discussing and sharing the social media crisis du jour is the social media manager’s water cooler talk.

“Tsk. tsk. We would never do that!” or “Wow! That would never happen to us.”

Beyond the finger-wagging, head-shaking and armchair quarterbacking, effective social media managers use these cases to draw practical, relevant lessons. But how?

First: Don’t be literal.

Often the first reaction we hear is that there is some specific variable that doesn’t apply. The type of company, the size of company (this one is a particular favorite of ours), specific platform, nature of the audience’s complaint, etc., etc. isn’t exactly like us, so that wouldn’t happen here, and we don’t have to worry about that.

Baloney. That’s a cop-out.

Your organization may not have the specific elements of a particular crisis, but the overall situation could definitely apply. For example, at an Applebee’s in St. Louis, a server posted a photo to Reddit of a customer’s rude comment scrawled on a receipt. The server who posted the comment got fired. Applebee’s got an overwhelming amount of negative feedback, and initially it did a terrible job communicating with its audiences.

Maybe your business doesn’t have service employees who get tips, but to say that you wouldn’t ever have an employee post a customer’s complaint or behavior on the Internet is a narrow view.

If your organization has employees and those employees have smartphones, you have to assume they are sharing aspects of their work with their friends (and the world). And if your organization hasn’t bothered to develop guidelines or train employees appropriately, something like that could happen to you.

Second: Look for themes.

It’s true that the specific details of any given crisis/issue in the news may not directly relate to your business. But it’s important to step back and look for themes, and then apply those themes to your organization.

Employees mistweeting — sending personal tweets from corporate accounts — is something we hear about a lot. And you may think that unlikely, particularly if your social media management team includes only one or two people.

But, what are the themes? We see two big themes that apply to most “mistweet” cases: training and process.

Training for new or junior team members seems obvious. They have to understand the plan, content strategy, brand voice, etc. All staff members using the company’s social media channels need to understand the tools and the tech. Managing multiple accounts typically means apps and software outside of

Does everyone on your social media team know how to use Hootsuite or SproutSocial? Do they really know?

Closely related to training is the idea of process. What is the process you use to update your profiles? Sending a personal tweet from the corporate account accidentally is ridiculously easy to do — even if you are fluent in the technology. Most social media managers can share at least one story about a time they forgot to double-check which account they were using. I know I do.

Are you using the same app for all accounts? Can you easily recognize which account is active? Many social media managers have separate apps for business and personal use so there’s no crossover, or they find a Web app that has clear separation between accounts.

I use Tweetdeck for my personal Twitter and Twitter’s app or Hootsuite for business accounts.

You, like me, will likely never have to worry about accidentally sending a racist tweet about President Obama’s grandmother, but sending an innocuous, but potentially confusing, tweet about heading to happy hour or how hard you worked in your yoga class happens all the time.

Other gaffes like posting the wrong photo on Facebook or adding the photos to Flickr in the wrong album or without captions may not seem like a big deal, but developing a smooth and meaningful process for how you manage and update social media platforms goes a long way if you want a consistent and professional presence.

Chances are, if you take an objective look at your policies, plans and process in the light of someone else’s social media crisis, you can find some weak spots that need to be shored up.

Be humble. You may not see the alligator in the pond and you could find yourself with a high-profile social media driven crisis on your hands.

Approaching case studies and social media news without finger-wagging, but with your thinking cap on and your pencil sharpened, will help you focus on the takeaways for your organization. Because “that would never happen to us” is naive, and leaves you vulnerable.





1 Comment

  1. Sherry Carr-Smith

    This is all great advice. Even though I work in healthcare, my department talks all the time about how any of the scenarios you mentioned could happen to us. Emotions run high when people are sick, so we see the range of comments, photos and postings. Thanks for all your great reminders!

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