Social signals – how many collective shares, mentions, likes, and follows your business’s social media profiles have on an ongoing basis – are a big deal right now. They hold significant weight in determining rank because Google sees a high degree of positive interactions as indicating that you’re reliable, trustworthy, and ultimately, sharing content your fans and followers find useful.
That’s exactly why so many businesses now consider Social Media Marketing (SMM) an absolute must for staying competitive in SEO. Without social signals pointing to your business, you’re left trailing behind everyone else who manages to get it right, but that doesn’t mean SMM is without risk.
The Risk of a Negative Rep
The problem is that Google considers social signals so important for overall rank and reach. Negative reputations on social media sites have the potential to harm not just your social media presence, but your entire rank and reach right across the board.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that negative reputations can be warranted or unwarranted. On the business side, you may share a joke or post something that seems innocuous, yet has stereotypical, racial, or political overtones, leading to an avalanche of outrage in response to your well-intentioned content.
Or, maybe you really did manage to mess up with a customer or guest. Maybe you went out of your way to repair that relationship, offering refunds or fixes, but they refused them and prefer to complain on your wall instead.
On the other side of the coin is malicious reputation attacks. These are the instances where someone, either a customer or even a competitor, drops by your social media accounts with a well-fabricated story, drops it on your wall, and attracts attention from your fans and followers. Within hours, you’re getting slammed with negative reviews and calls for boycotts. It doesn’t even necessarily matter whether or not you actually completed whatever atrocity they’re claiming; it only matters how loud and visible they are.
Then you have the true public relations disasters – like this post where Adidas congratulated people on surviving the Boston Marathon, or this post from McDonald’s that slammed Donald Trump. Your thoughts on Trump or the Boston Marathon aside, these posts both obviously needed more consideration before they went live.
Proactive Prevention is Best
Obviously, preventing problems from occurring in the first place is the best way to prevent yourself from developing a negative reputation. Serve your customers well, strive for greatness, and carefully review posts before they go live. It seems like common sense, but there are enough businesses breaking these three critical rules that it bears repeating again and again.
But what about when you’re already struggling? What if you’re being maliciously attacked by a follower? If you’re in the midst of a scandal, prevention isn’t going to fix the slide downward. Instead, you need to address the issue with negative reputation recovery strategies to restore your good name.
Truthfully, negative reputation recovery can be immensely frustrating. It’s time-consuming, complicated, delicate, and often, expensive, but it’s a must if you’re already embroiled in a scandal or negative viral campaign.
In the rest of this article, I’ll outline the steps you should take to avoid making it worse. The goal? Pulling your profiles back into neutral territory without being eaten alive on the way.
Step Away from the Keyboard
Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive, especially when you have a scandal unfolding right in front of your eyes. But rapid responses filled with emotion, especially anger and indignant frustration, won’t do you any favors. They’ll just make your business look unprofessional and convince people there’s a good reason for your negative rep.
Whether your situation is unfolding slowly, or you just woke up to a massive PR disaster, the first (and only) first step is to take stock and figure out what happened. This means deep analysis of the situation – how it started, how it’s unfolding, what people are saying, and who is affected.
It is extremely important that you don’t jump in when you see “dog-piling” – negative conversations that tend to build on themselves. Although it may be hard, set aside your desire to break it up and let it be for now until you have a plan. No matter how logical your argument, you won’t win.
Respond to the Right People
Who you respond to (or where you respond) makes almost as much difference as how you respond. If the issue started with a single customer, and mostly expanded with supporters dog-piling on and sending the issue viral, address the customer directly and publicly by apologizing.
It’s best to invite customers to speak with you privately while also treating them like a human publicly. Encourage private communication, but don’t be surprised of they refuse or if you’re accused of attempting to “hide” the problem. This is immensely common in today’s social media world.
Let’s say the issue is bigger than just one person. Maybe you inadvertently re-shared something with subtle racial overtones or a sexual innuendo you completely missed before you shared it. In cases like these, a public post with an apology and an outline of how you intend to fix the problem in the future is better. ‘
If the situation has already exploded, it may be better to release an all-points press release or apology on all channels. Save this type of response for when all other measures have failed.
Start With an Apology
Let me be clear: apologies are an absolute must. Without them, you have virtually no chance of coming back from a disaster.
Apologies should feel genuine, should be empathetic, and should never use cut-and-paste standard responses. Followers see through copy-pastes in seconds, and will usually just point out your lack of effort.
Make it honest, transparent, and genuine, and speak like you were speaking to a colleague or friend. Never include phrases like “didn’t really mean it that way” “sorry you were offended” or any form of sarcasm; this is social media suicide.
Think of your apology as the beginning of your recovery story; your plan for the future is how you reach your happy ending. Don’t just say you’re “taking steps” to resolve a problem – so long as it doesn’t further jeopardize your reputation, tell your followers that those steps are and how you plan to implement them.
Fix the Problem and Move Forward
The next step is to identify whether you can take action to fix the problem. There are no magic solutions here; the best “fix” depends on variables like your business, your niche, your following, and even the scope and category of PR disaster you’re experiencing.
Ultimately, “fixing the problem” generally involves correcting a process or changing your business’s policies to prevent further irresponsibility or issues. And that starts with acknowledging your role or responsibility; then, you need to showcase how you will evolve and grow from it.
In the final section, I’m going to highlight two instances where brands overcame social media reputation disasters to bounce back.
Sometimes, it’s easier to understand just how good (or bad) things can go based on a single reaction. Let’s review a few major social media disasters and see where past brands got it right.
Entenmann’s Hashtag Snafu
During the culmination of the Casey Anthony trial, when #notguilty was trending on Twitter in reference to the case, Entenmann’s made a major blunder. The company, who sells baked goods, tweeted “”Who’s #notguilty about eating all the tasty treats they want?!”
Of course, what ended up happening is that Entenmann’s appeared as if they had taken advantage of the currently-trending #notguilty tweet to drive home more sales. Naturally, the public reacted swiftly and angrily, accusing them of everything from greed to irresponsibility to making light of the verdict. Sure, that wasn’t their intention…but it didn’t really matter at that point.
Entenmann’s took responsibility of the scenario quickly. They deleted the initial tweet and reposted another:
“Sorry everyone, we weren’t trying to reference the trial in our tweet! We should have checked the trending hashtag first” and added “Our #notguilty tweet was insensitive, albeit completely unintentional. We are sincerely sorry.”
What worked so well here wasn’t just the apology – it was the fact that Entenmann’s addressed their failure directly, acknowledged their role, and identified exactly how they would prevent if from ever happening again (checking trending tags first).
Chrysler’s Media Company Debacle
This issue with Chrysler several years ago is a great example. The company contracted a media agency to handle their posts. Someone from the media company ended up firing out an f-bomb through what he thought was his own account, but was really Chrysler’s account. It slammed Detroit drivers for being unable to drive.
“I find it ironic that Detroit is known as #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f#*!ing drive.”
What made this scenario especially difficult is that Chrysler is an iconic Detroit car manufacturer; they’re deeply tied to the area and the immense struggle it’s experienced over the last 50 years.
Which is exactly why Chrysler didn’t just apologize; they took action by breaking their contract with the media company:
“Chrysler Group LLC will not renew its contract with New Media Strategies (NMS) for the remainder of 2011. NMS has agreed to support us with an orderly transition until a new agency has been named. We thank them for the work they have provided to us and wish them the best as they move forward.”
New Media, the company responsible, also took action by firing the individual and aligning themselves with Chrysler’s innocence by taking responsibility. In short, they did the right thing.
Can’t seem to get on top of your reputation issues? We use advanced strategies to address reputation and PR concerns from a holistic perspective. Let’s come up with a plan to get you back on track and positively regarded by the public.