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When Social Media Turns into Risky Business

October 23, 2012

by Allison Maloney, NM Incite

The advantages of a brand becoming involved in social media far outweigh the risks. But with an uber-transparent environment, the road can be a little bumpy at times.

A newer law passed in Australia and Thailand (and perhaps soon in New Zealand) indicates that if derogatory or defamatory content is posted on a brand’s social media page or blog, whether the brand posted it or not, the company can be held liable and subject to legal ramifications if they do not remove the post within a reasonable amount of time. Avoiding a discussion on any ethical implications this law may involve in terms of certain freedoms we may consider a natural born right, the issue of negative content on company social media outlets is something worth taking a moment to consider.

It is well known that customers want to feel connected to the brands they purchase. The entire consumer decision journey – from the initial decision through the evaluation stage to actual purchase – should be layered with positive brand interaction, whether it be direct contact with the brand, or with consumers conversing with each other about their brand experiences. A recent Nielsen study indicates that 56% of consumers use social media at least once a week to learn more about brands, products and services. So what happens when a potential customer does their social media research and happens upon derogatory content on a brand’s page, whether it’s directed at the brand or at someone or something unrelated to the brand? Negative associations tend to have a ripple effect.

So realistically, what can you do to prevent or curb the effect of negative content posted to your branded Facebook page, Twitter handle or company blog? First, understand that risks come in many forms and prepare for them; two risks include a changing regulatory landscape, in the case of the aforementioned countries, and consumer activism.

Why should you care about mitigating social media risk? There are several reasons, but put simply…

  • Just one negative post about a brand can wipe out the effect of five positive posts – which affects your customers’ purchase decisions (M. Corstjens, A Umblijs. The Power of Evil. Forthcoming, December 2012. Journal of Advertising Research.).
  • Next to relying on peers, social media is one of the most trusted sources of purchase information. Ninety-two percent of people trust recommendations from people they know. Seventy percent trust consumer opinions posted online (Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey , Q3 2011).
  • As more and more consumers turn to social media and express their brand experiences online, the lines between marketing and customer service are becoming blurred. There’s an emerging need to move some sort of customer service into the social media world, these days referred to as social care.

How can you start mitigating social media risks?

  • Monitor social media channels. Take an active role on your channels. Do research to understand what your consumers are talking about. Discover risky situations or negative experiences before they spin out of control.
  • Identify brand influencers. Whether you like it or not, you’re bound to have influential social media gurus that either advocate for your brand or become a brand detractor. Institute social media research to find these individuals and engage them. Find your detractors and help solve their issues, and find your advocates so you can help them amplify their reach and passion for your brand.
  • Formulate a crisis plan in case a person’s post sets off a negative social media windstorm. How will you respond? In what instances will you take the conversation offline? In what instances will you perhaps ignore a type of comment? What processes will you put in to place to discover backlash occurring on social media?
  • Develop social media guidelines for your company. While employees can be your best advocates, in many instances their posts can have an unintentional negative impact on your brand.
  • Openly display your brand’s social media rules. Even if negative comments do pop up, unrelated to your brand, explaining that you do not condone those types of posts may go a long way.

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