We’ve all heard about big brands who get caught up in social media imbroglios: airlines scuffling with celebrities (Alec Baldwin and American, anyone? Kevin Smith and Southwest?) and laypeople alike, BP after the Gulf oil spill, Verizon’s recent $2 “convenience fee”…the list goes on. Big brands can generally recover fairly quickly in these situations; they often have staff dedicated to crisis communications, and unless the error is really grievous, they have so many customers that losing a few to a social media mess probably won’t affect the business on a large scale.
But what about smaller businesses? If you’re in any kind of business that provides customer service, it’s critical to be prepared for things like this, or even better, nip dissatisfaction in the bud before it even reaches critical mass in social media. Here are five ways to prevent a social media crisis:
Solicit mobile feedback. Give people an outlet to provide feedback on their experience to you directly. We’ve written all about text surveys on this blog before, for a number of different types of businesses. I’ve seen it happen before: An unhappy customer takes to Twitter, Facebook or even their Tumblr when trouble hits, before they’ve even left the business. What if you gave them somewhere to talk to you directly before they did that? Respond to it quickly.
I think we’ve made it clear that just asking for feedback isn’t enough. You need to actually pay attention and act on that feedback. If you’re offering a place for customers to give you instant feedback, they should be able to expect instant response from you.
Monitor social media channels.
It bears repeating: Listen to what people are saying about you online. Even the most vague murmurs of dissatisfaction can snowball pretty quickly if they strike a nerve with a group of people — social media mobilizes quickly!
Act on what you’ve read.
There’s an important word in “social media”: It’s social. That means listening isn’t enough; your business actually needs to interact with people to do it well. So no matter how you respond — with a reply, a direct message, an e-mail or a phone call — be sure you respond in some way.
This could seem counterintuitive, but let people know — publicly — what’s happened and how you’re responding. Companies that are transparent get a lot of respect from the social media community, and putting yourself in the middle of the story about your brand gives you an important foothold in determining where that conversation goes.