You wake up in the morning, drink your coffee, workout, eat some protein, pour another cup of coffee as you check your phone, and there it is... a Google Alert for your brand name. You click on the alert only to find that some unknown person has blasted your brand for something that has been blown way out of proportion. You quickly jump on Facebook and Twitter and notice that same person has posted something not-so-nice about your cherished brand name. It has a couple retweets and a like or two. What do you do next?
The panic sets in. What the heck just happened, you think. I have to do something about this now. Even though your first instinct might be to jump on Twitter and answer the accusation, correct the falsehood, or answer the angry question, don't trust your first instinct. Or maybe your first thought is, I don't give a crap about this idiot, and move on with your day, avoiding social media. You think, "because this isn't true it will go away. Nobody will believe that". Wrong again. Truth is already being defined by the angry social media poster.
Optimum mediation of the negative issue involves some initial assessment, especially if you lack an incident management plan. Here are five steps you need to take before you decide whether or not to respond to a social media issue.
Can you make a phone call and verify the event, the accusation, or get the question answered? Is the issue personal or universal? Is the accusation, question, or issue reality? Often people are confused about what to do next. This is where you need a toolbox of tactics, or an issues management plan. This response chart from Agnes and Day (thanks to friend Melissa Agnes) is one of the tools that will help you sort out what happened. Also known as a triage response chart, it lends clarity to the process of if and when to respond. Here is another response chart example from Webster University.
When you respond and if you respond depends on the information you gather here as quickly as you can. If your initial assessment reveals that no response is needed right now, continue to gather information until the issue dies down. Never assume that quiet means nothing is taking place. You've heard the saying, the calm before the storm? Be diligent in your investigation. Start crafting message points in case a response is warranted.
Who did this?
Research the poster. What is their connection to the story? To your brand? Are they media? A disgruntled customer? A blogger with an anonymous tip? What is the degree of their connection? What is their level of influence? Are they repeating something they heard or something they experienced? Their degree of connection and level of influence will affect the escalation of the story. If you can't find the answers, you may need help from someone in your organization closer to the issue. Do a Google search of the issue using some related keywords and brand nicknames to see if the issue has any traction. Conduct a Twitter search as well.
When did this take place?
What's the time stamp on the first post you can find? Speed of traction should be directly related to time. Critical mass should be reached within the first four hours of an initial issue, unless it surfaces overnight. According to Sysomos, 92 percent of retweets happen in the first hour - but I can tell you from experience that it may take a while for an issue to gain traction depending of the influencers and media that pick it up. Viral movement is related to influence plus reach. The bottom line: time is critical.
Where did this take place?
Venue is also important. Is it an online customer service issue? Or did something very public take place? Did it take place within or outside your organization? Did someone get caught misbehaving in public? Try and run down just exactly where the issue is growing from. Again, you'll probably need to solicit help from others in your organization if you don't have an incident management plan already in swing.
Why did this happen?
This is the big question. More than anything, the answer to this question will help you determine the escalation potential of the issue. Random complaint? Accident? Negligence? Indifference? Blind spot? Intent to cheat, discredit, or injure? As you move through those questions, the likelihood the issue will need a response increases. Find out the why as soon as you possibly can. If it was an accident, it doesn't necessarily mean the issue doesn't get a response. It just helps to determine the response.
Determining the answers to these five points can help you ascertain when and if you should respond to a social media surprise. I've seen issues die out in a matter of days and no response from the brand was needed. I've also seen an issue blow up in a couple hours and send a brand into a spin fest that they've never recovered from. For this reason, it's important to have an incident management response plan as part of your communications policy.