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When buzz turns to blech

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

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.

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