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July 14, 2014

Social Media’s Hydra Head Problem

By Karen J. Bannan

It’s been a summer of social gaffes. Most recently, pop singer Robin Thicke was the casualty of a giant PR blunder. Television network VH1 created a hashtag — #AskThicke – and asked the Twitterverse to send in their questions for the Blurred Lines crooner. The result was both hysterical (if you’re not Thicke or the VH1 PR team) and something that serves as a cautionary tale.

Thicke and his team didn’t remember one of the cardinal rules of social media: It’s impossible to control. Once you put something out there, it takes on a life of its own. Of course, Thicke isn’t the first casualty in the social media war. Many other brands, companies and celebrities have been targets in a social campaign turned ugly. This may be why there are still business holdouts on the social media front.

While it’s true that social media and, in some cases, social business implementations, can go very wrong, with a little forethought and planning you can protect your organization from any potentially negative fallout. From an employee perspective, everyone should be familiar with your acceptable use policy. That said, if it is too restrictive or punitive the same policy that protects can also silence your employees.

A better option may be to give someone the task of dealing with issues and negative commentary that comes up and ensure whatever responses are created go out swiftly and are followed through until there is a solution to your problem. For instance, if a customer posts something negative on Facebook be ready to respond to the complaint in a positive, upbeat manner. It is also important to monitor not just your own Facebook page, but any “unofficial” fan or insider pages as well as LinkedIn groups, YouTube channels and Twitter feeds.

Internally, you should be monitoring keywords and overall sentiment of posts, discussions and collaborations to uncover problems before they are blown out of proportion. In this case, the best way to fix an online problem may be to address it offline. In addition, moderators and those starting discussions should be trained to ask the right questions so that responses are framed positively rather than negatively.

In the end, though, it’s important to keep a McKinsey statistic in mind: Although, according to one report, social media carries risks including “…identity theft, loss of intellectual property, violations of privacy, abuse and damage to reputations,” the benefits of such technologies will likely outweigh the risks.

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