SOCIAL MEDIA

How to Sidestep an Impending Social Media Disaster

A vast number of companies are one step away from walking into a social media disaster. Here's how to nip the problem in the bud.
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Social media disasters have become the new material for bon mots at business gatherings. And the raw material is rampant.

For example, JP Morgan--you know, the people that helped bring the global economy to its knees--invited questions to its executives via Twitter. Two-thirds of the 8,000 comments in six hours were negative. (Here's a great one: "Quick! You're in a room with no key, a chair, two paper clips, and a lightbulb. How do you defraud investors?"

Or there was Amy's Baking. The small restaurant managed to parlay an already disastrous appearance on reality television into an utter fiasco through an ill-conceived and badly executed social media campaign. The PR firm it hired to try and pull them out of the morass resigned shortly after taking the account.

These are the stuff of legend, and far from what could happen to your business. Right? Don't believe it for a minute. Some survey work from social media training firm Social Media Marketing University suggests that a lot of companies are closer to the edge of disaster than they'd like to contemplate.

The Findings

The survey went out to SMMU's database of "marketers, social media strategists, C-Level executives and entrepreneurs," according to a press release. There were 1,036 respondents, which could mean next to nothing depending on how representative the database was and how many people refused to participate. The numbers are... interesting:

  • 58.2 percent receive customer complaints via social media "occasionally" while 10.9 percent receive them "somewhat often" and 4.9 percent "fairly often"
  • 26.1 percent of respondents said their brands had been damaged from negative social media posts--15.2 percent lost customers and 11.4 percent lost revenue
  • 23.4 percent had no strategy to handle negative social commentary and no plans to create one, 24.5 percent of brands were working on a strategy, and 7.6 percent had strategies that they deemed ineffective
  • about 52.2 percent of brands took 24 hours to respond to complaints posted on their own accounts, and 21.4 percent either rarely or never responded

Holy crap. Anyone want to wager how many of the "responses" to negative posts involved deleting them?

Sure, the results are self-serving--what, a company that focuses on training others in use of social media is going to say its services are unnecessary? And the sample may not be representative. But, is your company currently part of that group?

Simple Solution

I remember learning years ago in the direct marketing business that positive word of mouth typically traveled from a customer to between four and six people. Negative word of mouth reached something like nine to 15. When people are pissed, they are going to complain. When they complain on social media, they may be reaching hundreds--or thousands. Or a lot more if the complaints spin their way into a rip-roaring disaster story that the media cannot resist.

The good news is that when someone has an honest problem and you address it to their satisfaction, they typically become strong spokespeople. They understand mistakes and appreciate it when companies take care of them. What they don't understand, or forgive, is being ignored.

Want to avoid your impending social media disaster? It's easy: Stop ignoring people on social media.

IMAGE: SPC Photographic / Flickr.com
Last updated: Feb 25, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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