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5 Tips For Protecting Your Brand From A Social Media Crisis

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At SMWNYC, Eni’s Erika Mandraffino delved into one of the biggest questions of the social media age: How can brands, organizations, and individuals protect their brand amidst an onslaught of noise on a variety of platforms?

In 2018, companies have no choice but to communicate with fans, critics, and peers on social media. But that doesn’t mean the platform doesn’t come with substantial risks.

Social media crises can come in many forms, both external and self-inflicted. Worse yet, some crises may not have been crises at all — but after an overzealous response, your company may “break into jail” and find themselves into hotter water than you originally deserved.

The question of how to balance continuing to broadcast your message and vision while avoiding social media pitfalls is one that plagues a variety of organizations, which is why a recent Social Media Week New York panel on the topic likely fielded such a diverse set of respondents: Andrada Morar from Hewlett-Packard, Erika Mandraffino from Eni, and Jaclyn Rothenberg from the City of New York.

All three had interesting takes on the best way to protect their respective brands on social media. Here were the main takeaways:

Always have a crisis plan in place

A crisis plan is more than just a fallback plan. Preparing for a crisis means getting out ahead of it and not letting misinformation or disinformation spiral out of control.

“We want to make sure we’re protecting our channels and that people know the information we put out is correct,” said Rothenberg, whose office often deals in emergencies that require the mayor of New York’s response. “As communication professionals, we need to make sure that our brands, organizations, government, and everyone across the world is getting the right information.”

“Authenticity, preparation, and creativity,” said Mandraffino of how her company protects itself from reputational crisis.

Engage in authentic communication

One of the best ways to solve a PR crisis is to never get into one in the first place. While this isn’t always possible, one of the recurring themes of the panel was how important authentic communication was in avoiding misunderstandings that can lead to criticism.

“We just launched a brother program of HP focused on getting our executives to be active on social media. The benefit is focusing on their personal brand. Focusing on what they care about, what keeps them awake at night, what do they want to be known for?” said Morar. “Connecting your personal life with your business life helps you to become who you really are,” said Morar. 

Being authentic also helps in putting out fires that are already burning, added Morar. “Being proactive and honest, and having the courage to be transparent. If you do the right things, managing the crisis will be easy. You’ll have a clear conscience,” she said.

Deal with internal versus external expectations

Sometimes the biggest threats to a brand can be internal. When someone high up finds out that criticism of the brand is brewing, they can be too quick to jump into action when patience is typically the best medicine.

“My idea was to wait it out and see if it was contained, and if it was, then we didn’t have to broadcast it to the world,” said Morar of a crisis that eventually petered out. “Stress is the worst trait a communications director can deal with. Because you want to act immediately, but it should be the opposite.”

On the other hand, sometimes the expectations come from external forces, which is typically the case with Rothenberg’s job. “We use Dataminr to tell us that something has occurred. Oftentimes, you guys are our first responders, taking pictures, taking video, posting it on social media,” she said. A third-party application can be useful in discerning a signal from noise.

Learn from engagement with critics

You can’t respond to every issue that someone takes with your company’s decisions or positions. Because of the prevalence of trolling in the modern era, sometimes these criticisms aren’t even real.

But it takes good judgment to discern what is worth addressing and what isn’t. There are times when addressing even the smallest issue is beneficial.

“Is it something you can work on or learn from? Is it something factual, do you need to correct it? It might feel negative, but you can learn a lot,” said Morar.

“We do engage sometimes,” said Rothenberg. “We assess whether a tweet should be responded to. We want to be responsive. When people come with legitimate concerns, it’s important to engage.”

Cultivate influencers of all sizes

Being proactive with your brand is another way to avoid issues. Like other speakers at SMWNYC, this panel was big on the use of influencers — specifically microinfluencers — in getting the word out.

“We kind of like microinfluencers more than celebrity influencers,  as we find that that’s very effective and it can have more long-term affect than on our business and our reputation,” said Moff. “You have to choose the relevant communities, and cultivate them by giving them the right level of information and access.”

Dealing with social media crises is just part of the new reality of running a business or organization. Having the right plans and policies in place is the best place to start, but your entire strategy needs to be centered around promoting your central voice and mission. Everything else will build around that.

Eni is an integrated energy company involved in the exploration, production, transport and marketing of oil and natural gas. We have business operations in 66 countries around the world.

 

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