Social media has many benefits for small businesses, but it also comes with risks. One negative comment can snowball into a viral campaign. One Tweeted complaint could start trending. One ill-thought-out status update could lead to national outrage. So what do you do when the worst happens? How do you recover from a social media PR disaster?
The dangers of social media for your small business
Think only larger companies can attract interest and attention online? Think again. Social media has the power to determine your reputation, good or bad.
Some of the ways social media could negatively impact your business include:
- An employee sharing confidential information about your business
- A customer data leak
- Poor language or wording that misrepresents your business
- Negative comments or feedback about you or your business
- Bad publicity/word of mouth exposure
- False reporting/rumors about your business
- Generating a successful campaign but not being able to keep up with demand
On the plus side, Twitter and Facebook are saturated with more content than ever before. As a result, it’s hard to get exposure and today’s audience is difficult to shock. A recent social media study found that 46% of users unfollow brands because they share too much commercial content, while only 29% unfollow because they take issue with the language or branding.
In other words, it will take more than one lousy tweet to destroy your credibility.
How to prevent a social media disaster
The best way to manage a social media disaster is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Therefore, it makes sense to outsource your social media to a third-party expert. That way, your reputation is in the hands of someone with specialist skills and experience.
By hiring a social media manager, your business will also benefit from a strong content marketing strategy and consistent branding, which will only mean good things for your reputation.
“A brand is not a product or a promise or a feeling. It’s the sum of all the experiences you have with a company,“ Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide.
Hiring a social media manager may not be an option for your business, either because you don’t have the budget to outsource your content marketing or the damage is already done.
If the latter is true, you’ll want to take steps to recover while considering a preventative solution to avoid future disasters.
How to recover from a social media nightmare
The dangers of social media for businesses are hard to quantify. However, there are basic steps every company can take to make a comeback after the worst happens online.
You should always apologize for bad experiences, whether or not your business is at fault. No matter what you know about the customer’s behavior, pointing your finger in the other direction will not reflect well on your brand. Customers want to know that if they experience a problem, they will be handled with respect and courtesy. Receiving an apology is a part of this expectation.
2. Be honest
However tempting it might be to avert the blame, always own up when you’ve made a mistake. Remember: whatever happens in your business is your responsibility. So if an employee has slipped up, you need to take the fall. Owning your mistakes will earn you respect online; denying them will not.
3. Stand your ground
In the event of bad press, you should always stand your ground if you are categorically not to blame. Whole Foods, for example, came under fire in 2016 after a pastor accused them of writing a homophobic message on a cake. The customer in question tried to sue the chain, but instead of going into crisis mode, the chain answered his suit with a suit against him. Eventually, the pastor backed down and admitted he lied, which deflected any bad press from Whole Foods and saved their reputation.
4. Don’t overreact
Mistakes happen, even huge PR disasters. You should respond appropriately to the severity of the error, but don’t overreact. Apologize, make amends and move on. If your slip-up was minor, don’t be afraid to inject some humor into the situation. Your customers will take their cues from you. Overreact, and you’re showing them there’s something to worry about. Recover gracefully, and they will too.
5. Don’t feel the need to punish
Your first impulse might be to fire someone who messes up. Sometimes, letting someone go is the only way to move on from a disaster, but more often than not there is a teachable moment. Show your staff to build loyalty and trust even when they make a mistake. Why not use the opportunity to draft a policy on how to handle PR mistakes? Your customers will see that you’ve learned from your mistakes, and your company culture will also benefit.
6. Engage your customers again
Don’t be tempted to retreat after a social media disaster. Instead, keep engaging with your customers to repair the damage. Offer a freebie, start a hashtag campaign, and unite your fans together. The secret from here on out is to keep a close eye on your social media campaign and make sure your PR disaster doesn’t derail it.
Social media for small businesses: is it worth the risk?
Social media comes with risks, and no business is immune. However, that doesn’t mean you should miss out on the benefits it can offer. Starting a business is a risk in itself, and there’s no way of knowing if it will pay off. The same goes for social media management, but with the right strategy in place, you should be able to deal with whatever comes your way.
Part of your job as a business owner is to understand the risks and come up with strategies to:
- Prevent risks happening in the first place
- Deal with the fallout after the event
- Learn from your experience and implement measures for the future
Platforms like Twitter and Facebook can help you gain exposure, build your brand, improve your customer service and establish you as a leader in your industry – as long as you use social media with purpose. Once you have established a successful social campaign, there is no easier and more effective way to engage with a global audience. So don’t let the risks stop you missing out on the benefits.