Social media is a valuable tool for small businesses. It offers direct access to customers, allows entrepreneurs to promote their products and services (in way that wasn’t possible before the invention of the Internet), and empowers businesses to address questions and concerns before they become monumental. Social media, although positive in many ways, can also destroy a business — particularly if someone launches a campaign to do so.
For example, one hotel restaurant went under fire when a hotel boss refused to sell kid’s menu items to a 47 year-old man with Down’s Syndrome. Rather than address the situation immediately, the company allowed the situation to escalate to the point where the restaurant and hotel’s reputations were tarnished. People read the Facebook message posted by a family member of the man and instantly assumed that the business was discriminating against the man’s disability. Addressing the situation online could have cleared up any misconceptions and prevented the restaurant from a loss of business.
So, here are five ways you can protect your business from social media backlash, when faced with a potential PR crisis:
Before you allow everyone to have free reign over your Facebook wall or Twitter feed, make sure the proper systems are in place. If anything, it will keep spammers from flooding your social media accounts with sunglasses and sneakers and will allow you to keep private matters on the down low until you’ve had time to acknowledge and deal with them directly.
Respond to all feedback (good and bad).
If you truly want to engage with your customers, you can’t ignore them when they criticize you, your business, employees, products or the services you provide. Doing so can seal your fate and make it incredibly difficult to recover from a social media smear campaign. On the same hand, it’s important to acknowledge praise as well. It shows that you care what your customers have to say.
Keep separate social media accounts.
If you encourage your employees to update business Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, make sure they aren’t logged into their own personal accounts. It goes without saying that many a controversy has stirred because of people’s inability to keep their personal beliefs from running amok in their business accounts.
Never capitalize on a tragedy.
It is really bad form and extremely insensitive to promote your business during a natural disaster or similarly awful situation. It shows lack of tack and is a good way to get people to launch an attack on your social media pages. If you choose to make your employees work in dangerous conditions and promote it through Facebook and Twitter, you’ll be verbally assaulted. Even if you think the danger has passed, it best not to comment about it on the Net. People do not respond well when faced with a potentially difficult situation.
Get the Hashtag right.
If the hashtag you’ve selected to promote your business is too similar to an existing hashtag, you’re likely to cause a stir. Take #Aurora. It was sent out as a way to promote a posh boutique whose dress was being worn by Kim Kardashian. The hashtag, however, was incorrect and related posts were being directed to an account dealing with the tragic shooting that occurred in Colorado instead.
It’s not easy keeping a squeaky clean online presence. With little effort, however, you can protect your good name by taking the time to address issues. With social media shaping the way that businesses operate, it’s important that you recognize it as the powerful tool that it is and respect it. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram can potentially help or hurt your business and its future.
Meredith Wood is the Director of Community Relations at Funding Gates, the first ever cloud-based receivables management system for small businesses. Always looking for good talk on small business (and ways to get paid), connect with Meredith on Twitter @FundingGates.
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