Many marketing managers barely pay attention to social media until a real crisis hits their brands. At that point, they’ll rush into action with no real plan or strategy behind the frantic tweets and Facebook posts they send out in response to the rapid spread of untrue rumours or angry complaints across social networks.
Yet the online space – especially social media – is increasingly becoming ground zero for reputational crises for organisations. For that reason, marketing managers and PR executives really need to think about how they will respond online in a systematic manner to a reputation crisis.
Perhaps the first important step is to realise that one can plan for reputational crises that play out partly or mostly online, even if it is difficult to predict when they’ll hit or what form they will take.
The key here is that marketers need to continually assess the risks to their companies’ reputations and plan for a range of scenarios. Most companies know where at least some of the weak links in their reputation lie and can think about how they will communicate around them in a crisis situation.
For example, if a marketing manager knows that the contact centre is slow at answering emails, that the organisation will be reporting poor financial results or that it has experienced a high rate of returns for a particular product, he or she can begin crafting a response strategy for social media just in case the issue turns into a crisis.
It’s important to pair this strategic understanding with the operational processes and tools needed to track and respond to online reputation issues.
Marketers must also ensure their front-line social media employees know what to do when there’s a hint of trouble in the air and who to turn to for help, information and resources.
Most medium and large organisations will find it worthwhile to invest in true online reputation management (ORM) solutions that give them the ability to monitor social conversations for mentions of their brands and issues that are relevant to their businesses.
ORM tools empower marketers with the knowledge they need to respond intelligently to a crisis situation. The more marketers know about an unfolding crisis, the better they can manage it and the better their outcomes will be.
With ORM, they can see what conversations are taking place, and how quickly certain thoughts and sentiments are moving through the social media universe. Often, they can get an early warning of a crisis that allows them to nip it in the bud – perhaps by placating an angry but influential customer before his or her complaints get out of control or stamping out a false rumour.
These solutions also help marketers to manage workflow across teams and priority areas so that they can keep on top of responses to customers. And these tools also give organisations insight into how effective their responses are in defending or enhancing their online reputations in a crisis.
In a real-time world where customers are always online and sharing their opinions about the brands they interact with, crisis management is becoming the default mode of operation for many companies. But organisations that have the right tools in place to listen to social conversations, respond to them quickly and measure the effectiveness of their interventions can turn these crises into opportunities.
By responding quickly, humanly and proactively to a crisis in reputation, companies can create trust with consumers. ORM tools empower organisations with the tools they need to do just this.
Gordon Geldenhuys is the Online Reputation Management Product Manager at Acceleration Media.