Corporate Social Media Use: Four Lessons From Forum Strategies

With the explosion of corporate social media use, it is inevitable that problems will arise – and quickly go viral. What can we learn from a number of the more recent and high profile cases? FSC partner David Laufer recently addressed a Public Affairs Council webinar on the topic.

Lesson One: Prepare and plan. Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Be prepared: have a clear sense of the variety of social media channels you are on and why. What’s your business objective and the social media strategy to support it? Is it brand promotion and market influence, or advocacy and thought leadership? Are you monitoring or engaging? With whom and why? Know who and where your supporters and critics are on-line, what information is important to them and where the conversation is taking place.

Lesson Two: Participate in the dialogue - it will go on with or without you. Trying to tamp down on a conversation may only make it bigger (see how Nestle initially mishandled a Greenpeace campaign). Be able to respond quickly, and with a human voice, on the appropriate channels. Some cases demand immediate action, others a more measured response so that a social media molehill does not become a mainstream media (and reputational or legal) mountain. Restraint can be the better part of valor (see how Shell has handled a Greenpeace campaign). Control your message, but respond in similar media. If a crisis breaks and is all over Facebook, don’t just put your response on the corporate website. In several cases (eg: FedEx and KitchenAid), senior line executives were the ones who got involved, not just the company’s spokespeople or social media monitors.

Lesson Three: Act transparently. If you can, obviously, fix the problem. If you cannot yet do so, make sure to address the issue(s) that concern your audiences. That means: Indicate what did you know, and when? How did you find out and on what medium? Clarify what you don’t know, when you think you will find out, and what are you doing to find out? Specify what steps you are taking to correct it, and when. And say what you are doing to ensure it doesn’t recur.

Lesson Four: Monitor and measure. Quantitatively and qualitatively, you’ll need to know if your message is getting through to the audiences you care about, on the channels they’re active on. Breathe a sigh of relief, or adjust and calibrate your strategy accordingly.

For Further Reading:

  • Beyond Control – Foundation for Public Affairs
  • A Strategy for Managing Social Media Proliferation
  • How KitchenAid Spun A Twitter Crisis Into A PR Coup
  • Shell Oil's Social Media Nightmare Continues, Thanks To Skilled Pranksters Behind @ShellisPrepared
  • 5 Social Media Crisis Communications Lessons from the FedEx Video
  • The Fail Trail: Understanding 3 Social Media Crises
  • Ethical Corporation Report: How social media can preserve & enhance your company's reputation, preparing you for all types of online activity