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5 Tips for Writing an Online Reputation Crisis Policy

Does Your Business have an Online Reputation Defense Plan?There is no shortage of market research indicating that online reviews and social recommendations are a growing part of the sales conversion process. Unfortunately, the professionals dealing with the internet aspects of business may not be equipped to handle an online reputation crisis. Company PR experts are sometimes completely disconnected from those poised to be on the front lines of an online PR issue. 

Even if you have complete confidence that your internet team is able to handle a PR crisis, it is still a good idea to have a written plan in place to defend your online reputation. This will remove any doubt about the emergency procedure and define the roles of your employees.

An Online Reputation Defense Policy can be as long or as short as you deem appropriate. Each policy will differ by the company size and niche and every company will have different needs. Here are 5 tips for writing an online reputation defense policy for your business.

1. Identify and Monitor Industry Specific Websites. Potential online reputation problems will vary by business. Niche websites such as Avvo should be checked frequently. Define these websites in your policy and then specify how often your staff should check them in addition to the use of automated listening tools.

2. Determine an Immediate Action. Your policy should include detailed instructions for the person who first notices a problem. Bear in mind that this person is not likely to be the PR or crisis management professional. The immediate action dictated by your plan can be as simple or complicated as you deem appropriate for your business. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Contact a designated person:
    • Designate the method of contact based on circumstances: should the person be called, emailed, called at home, paged or updated at the next shift change meeting. Be specific.
    • Include a backup person or persons in case your first choice is unavailable.
    • Include instructions for who should be contacted if the comment is identified outside of normal business hours.
    • Describe the circumstances that warrant an after hours call.
  • Platform Based Responses:
    • If the comment is on Twitter, immediately respond with the most appropriate of the following scripted comments.
    • If the comment is on the Facebook wall, post nothing and call the Social Media Manager.
    • If the comment appears on Rip Off Report, do nothing unless instructed differently by the head of PR.
  • Category Responses:
    • If there is a defective product complaint, do not respond and call the VP of Operations immediately.
    • If the comment is about poor customer service, post the following scripted response and forward to the Consumer Retention Operator.
    • If the complaint is about a blog post or hashtag, monitor the conversation and page the Director of Online Marketing.
  • Contingency Instructions:
    • If there is no response within 1 hour call the Marketing Director's emergency number.
    • If the conversation involves 3 or more people, post the following scripted response and call the PR Manager.
    • Stop engagement if any of the following swear words are used by respondents more than once. 

Using the above, one element of your online reputation defense policy may read: 

If the comment appears on Twitter and it is a complaint about customer service, respond with: "We're sorry to hear you are having trouble. Please contact 1-800-555-5555 and we will resolve it ASAP!" Then follow the customer so they have the ability to DM. Call the Customer Service Manager if the complaint is identified during normal business hours. If the complaint is on a weekend or after business hours, Email the Customer Service Manager describing the problem and the Online Marketing Director. If a negative comment follows, do not post anything. If more than 1 negative comment follows, or more than 3 people become involved in the conversation, post this response: "Again, we're very sorry. Please contact us at 1-800-555-5555 or DM us so we can help!" If the conversation continues after the second response then call the Customer Relations Specialist on call, no matter what hour. If he or she does not respond within 30 minutes, call the Head of PR using the emergency number.

3. Delegate Authority. Decide what person should evaluate the threat level and whom they should consult based on the nature and seriousness of the threat. If you believe that your PR Manager has got it locked down, then your policy may only give the job title of the person to be contacted, method of contact, and circumstances that must occur to warrant their notification.

If you have several different professionals operating in a large company or corporation, you may want different people to be notified in different situations. For example:

  • Customer service complaints should be directed to the Director of Customer Service.
  • Complaints on Twitter should be directed at the Social Media Specialist.
  • Negative online reviews posted to Yelp or City Search should be emailed to the ORM Specialist. 

Often, the first person to identify an online reputation problem will believe that they are responsible for dealing with the complaint. This may or may not be true. This is why it is important to have a written online reputation response plan in place, so the first responder is absolutely clear about his or her role. 

Keep in mind that you should have a responder who will not be emotional about the complaint. If the critical remark is made about a post that the Social Media Manager has written, a campaign that they designed or a hashtag that they created, they may respond emotionally, or on impulse. This is what the online reputation defense plan is established to avoid. Keep this in mind when designating authority.

4. Dictate Response Guidelines: You may or may not want to establish guidelines based on common mistakes. Some examples include:

  • Do not delete the complaint.
  • Do not publicly respond more than twice.
  • Encourage the poster to contact the appropriate professional privately.
  • Escalate the complaint to another person if other customers join the conversation.

5. Make the Plan Available and Workable. Use all of the resources at your disposal to create your reputation defense strategy. You should get input from all parties who may be involved in an online reputation response and be sure a copy of the policy is available to all and everyone is clear about their role in an online reputation emergency.

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