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Posted: May 05, 2011

When buzz turns to blech

The dark side of social media

Gil Rudawsky

Jumping in to the social media world is not for the thin-skinned. Just ask Nestle.

The Swiss chocolatier has been abused on its Facebook page for so-called environmental issues every day for the last year. They are barraged with a steady stream of negative posts, some including offensive language and personal attacks.

The saying goes that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and much shorter for it to get ruined. With social media, that reputation can collapse in a matter of minutes as facts gets twisted, turned and misconstrued in a high-tech game of telephone.

While you can never prepare for the worst-case scenario, you can have the right tools in place to help minimize the damage from an online assault. A social media crisis plan needs to cover ground rules, online monitoring, online responses and legal options. It gets ugly pretty quick, but a thought-out plan can actually help you build a stronger reputation and brand - one based on honesty, responsiveness and openness.

Here are some pointers that I will discuss at ColoradoBiz's May 11 "Business in the New Normal" discussion series to help navigate social media outlets when a crisis hits. (Go here to learn more and register.)

1. Have a plan: Be prepared with a social media crisis response plan before news goes sour. While it is easy to simply delete a negative post, it's not always the best solution. Consider replying, and setting the record straight. Sometimes honesty is the best defense, and in some cases, other members of the page will come to your defense.

2. State the rules: Clearly state the intent of the Facebook page. For instance, under the "Info" tab, make it clear that the purpose of the page is to foster conversation with customers. Spell out that foul language and personal attacks will be deleted.

3. Delete and block. Posts that stray from the stated purpose of the page should be deleted. And if the person comes back again with a negative post, time to block them from the page.

4. Shut it down: In a worst case scenarios when the page is under attack by multiple people, turn off the member comment switch. While this creates only a one-way dialogue, it gives members a much-needed cooling-off period.

5. Monitor, Monitor, Monitor: Have a monitoring plan. As you know, action on Facebook appears late at night, so consider having someone monitor the page on off-business hours, especially during a crisis.

Remember, social media is about conversations, good and bad. And having a thick skin is a requirement.

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Gil Rudawsky is senior director of communications at GroundFloor Media. Before that, he worked as a deputy editor on the business and metro desks at the Rocky Mountain News, where he helped introduce the emerging world of social media to the newspaper. This vast experience translates into expert counsel for GroundFloor Media's clients, especially in the areas of crisis communication, social media and copywriting.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Thanks Gil. As a social media consultant with Social Climb, I tell my clients BEFORE they begin social media that they should consider social media to be word of mouth advertising on steroids. It provides a great opportunity to share who you are, what you do, and what differentiates you in the marketplace. For the company that does great work, has loyal customers and always makes the effort to do things right, social media can be the golden goose. For the companies that function on the border, that have questionable ethics or a lack of sincerity.... it could bury them quickly. Just as some companies make the decision not to go public, fearing the added scrutiny this option provides.... companies that are not sincere may want to stay clear of social media's interactivity. Advertisers are no longer able to just tell us what they have and why they think we should do business with them. Social media allows those with first-hand experience with your organization to respond with feedback for others to see. One of the most successful business men I had the pleasure of working with was Ed Bozarth from Bozarth Automotive. He once told me that business people get "uncovered or discovered..." The key, he continued, is to do the right thing and when your good reputation catches up with you, you will reap great benefits. By Debra Rodriguez on 2011 05 17
Gil, while I appreciate your comments, this all seems a bit too focused on the negative side. No doubt Social Media can get out of control - and this should be monitored - but let's not encourage people to overreact. A little negative criticism is not all bad. By Jerry Thurber on 2011 05 12

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