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Fan or Foe: Steps to Take Before a Social Media Maelstrom

Amidst the negative social media maelstrom with the Nestle and Sanofi-Aventis Facebook Fan Pages, many healthcare PR and social media practitioners are weighing in on how the situations could have been handled differently.  Hindsight is 20/20 and, realistically, many Community Managers may be ill-prepared for the many scenarios that may unfold.

•  First and foremost, no one is an expert.  As the demand for quality social expertise is growing, realize that no one has all the answers and the landscape is constantly changing. However, the right person will have the right “skills.”

•  Secondly, you are no longer in “control” and there are new rules of engagement.  According to  Jeremiah Owyang, “The power belongs to the community.”

•  Thirdly, you must have a strategy, and not just a policy. According to Jay Baer, consider How will you be human? A basic crisis communications plan that integrates with social media is also key.  The following are some steps to consider before your organization is faced with a social media crisis.

Review how your organization handles customer problems without the impact of social media. How are communications spread internally now?  Do you regularly meet with the heads of all major departments on issues of customer service, social responsibility, etc. How can internal communications be improved?  What is the process for resolving problems?  What are your resources?  Who is in charge?  If you don’t have a good process in place, your shortcomings will only be exacerbated with social media.

Add social media to the mix, and your process is now public. Accept that with the lack of control comes a mandate for transparency.  What are the skeletons in your closet?  They will come out.  Be ready to address them.

Would you put your social media person in charge of any other crisis communications? Another mistake is that many organizations hire a junior, technologically savvy, staffer who may not be able to manage this powerful media channel.  Is this person a qualified spokesperson for the organization? What type of crisis communications training do they have?  Do they have a high EQ?  Emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for social intelligence.  Do they have life experience?  Do they understand social interaction in a business setting?  Do they have empathy? Do they recognize when they should ask for help? Are they able to navigate a clear path to real-time resources and content?  These are “skills” that will make a difference when an unexpected situation arises despite the best-laid plans.

You can no longer rely on scripted responses and press releases. Although outlining your position on issues is a great part of training and planning for a crisis, today’s 21st century consumer demands a real response from a real person in a genuine way. Anything less will be seen as not being transparent.  It should be welcome for a more senior management person to join in and address an issue, and they need to identify themselves and their role in being able to resolve the problem.

Social media management is a team effort. Dedicate adequate resources and time to the process or get out of the sandbox.  Don’t rush to get on all the platforms without a plan. According to Carve Consulting, “Brands have to have an escalation policy in place – who gets involved if a death threat is posted to the CEO? Or something like this kicks off? All of these things need to be in place now, not after the horse has bolted. The best way is having a social media working group with heads of sales / HR / CRM / PR / comms etc. that meet for an hour a month in order to plan for this type of eventuality.”

Invest in relationships with your influencers. Do you really know your customers?  Are you engaging the influencers?  Where do they fall on the scale of Friend or Foe?

1.  Raving Fan

2.  Fan

3.  Neutral

4.  Unhappy Customer

5.  Critic

6.  Foe

Monitor your brand. Do you understand sentiment analysis tools?  Do you know how to really listen?  Do you know how to engage based on sentiment?  Do you have a regular dialogue?  In the time of a crisis, having a network of raving fans to engage is critical.  Most raving fans will come out to support you on their own, but look to move more fans up the scale by building trust through social media.

Do not ignore negative sentiment. Nip it in the bud.  An honest response that you are addressing the situation can diffuse a situation until you can figure out a solution.  Good customer service principles applied to digital media include:

1.    Acknowledging the messenger’s concern.

2.    Thanking the messenger for bringing the issue to your attention.

3.    Asking the messenger to take the conversation offline.

4.    Acting.  Fix the situation, find a solution.

5.    Responding back to the community on how you have dealt with the problem, especially if the situation affects more than one person.

Where your customers are on the Friend to Foe scale will influence your strategy. Some people are just Foes, and will demand special handling.  Here, the team effort and knowing your limitations are paramount.  If you don’t have a real-time solution, ask for time and work on it.  Never get in a fight or get emotional with a detractor.  Stick to the facts.

Admit what you don’t know.  Ask the community for help. Sanofi-Aventis did a great job asking the #hcsmeu community for recommendations during the March 19th chat. To hear “What Has Sanofi-Aventis Learned from Its Facebook Experience?” join John Mack, @pharmaguy, who will conduct a live streaming interview with Dennis Urbaniak, VP U.S. Diabetes and former VP of Innovation and New Customer Channels, Sanofi-Aventis, on Tuesday, April 6th at 2:00 p.m. EST.

The end goal is “trust.” There are no shortcuts to successful social media engagement.  Building trust takes time, but it is an investment that pays huge dividends.


Get Satisfaction recently announced a Social Engagement Hub for the Facebook Fan Page that manages customer service issues in one place.  Customers can  1)  Ask a Question, 2)  Share an Idea, 3) Report a Problem, and 4) Give Praise.  With Get Satisfaction,  problems that need resolving are managed in one place and may keep negative commentary from overtaking your entire wall and page.
MediaFunnel is a new tool that, in addition to managing Twitter and Facebook accounts, provides brand monitoring and an internal communications channel for tweets and status updates.  This could be a big asset to crisis communications.  Please let us know if you have used these tools and any feedback for our community.
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5 responses to “Fan or Foe: Steps to Take Before a Social Media Maelstrom”

  1. This is a great post and hits on some very important points – I’ll add my emphasis and perspective.

    Social media and community management is a role that requires inherent judgment because there are lots of situations that you simply can’t plan for. This judgment is not possible to ‘train’ someone for with a 3 month certification class. It requires a mix of experience and some qualities like empathy and emotional intelligence. In the Nestle situation, the person speaking on behalf of the company showed extremely poor judgment in how they communicated. I think the same content could have been communicated and not resulted in the outrage it ultimately engendered – and once started, things spiral quickly because people pile on.

    The second point about not hiring a junior person is that the person on the front lines needs the relationships to be able to escalate and pull in other people within the organization very quickly – and have the judgment to know when that is necessary and when it is not. This goes along with the judgment to understand it is OK to acknowledge concerns but dangerous to promise something without knowing whether it can be delivered.

    There are other issues brought up here that are worthy of a lot more conversation such as really understanding your constituent groups, war gaming scenarios internally before they happen, and really understanding the culture/personality of the organization so one can align the communication in social channels – all of which could be their own book.

    While the Nestle uproar is a good reminder for the rest of us, there is also a lot of schadenfreude going around with it. What went awry is both very simple (wrong person doing the communicating) and very complex (having the organization understand and give authority to the right type of individual).

    Let’s all learn from this and also give Nestle – and their unfortunately placed social media manager – a break.

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  3. HI Angela!

    I agree with Rachel, that is a great post!

    Nowadays, I think it becomes riskier for such corporations to learn how to deal with Social Media the hard way. A Social Media Maelstrom is a great opportunity for any corporation to evolve and finally take into consideration what people are saying about it. However, as long as it does not really reflect in the sales figures, it’s difficult to convince the decision maker to set up a Social Media strategy. Risks are too often underestimated and sometimes, communication crisis plans don’t even take Social Media into account.

    Sanofi-Aventis and Nestle should see these “incidents” as opportunities, and seize them right away to educate internally about Social Media (and recruit a part of the “unpaid army” coined by Jeremiah Owyang), starting setting-up strategies for engagement and implementing them. Sanofi could launch a corporate blog, centralizing their scattered presence all over the web, helping them to easily address any issue happening. As Nestle could turn the incident into an update of their CSR policies and setting-up a real-time “CSR facts & figures”, or more humorously launch a “design our new logo” contest (but I guess it’s too late now to use this kind of humor). Solutions are also in creativity of the teams.

    About the tool, I think you can add the Radian6 Engagement Console, which will help corporations to perform all Social Media tasks quickly and easily. This is not released yet, but the presentation is appealing.

  4. Thank you, Rachel,

    I very much appreciate your expert perspective. (For those not familiar, The Community Roundtable is a private peer to peer network for community managers and social media practitioners: http://community-roundtable.com/about/.)

    As you point out, there are many more issues “worthy of a lot more conversation such as really understanding your constituent groups, war gaming scenarios internally before they happen, and really understanding the culture/personality of the organization so one can align the communication in social channels – all of which could be their own book.” I found it a challenge to limit my post!

    I hope we can continue the conversation as we all continue to learn and share in this ever-changing landscape.

    Thank you, again, for your comments,

    Angela Dunn

  5. Thank you, Xavier,

    You bring up an interesting point about proactive content, especially a company’s CSR activities. By keeping your “fans” updated with facts and figures on your ongoing activities, even if not perfect, you will empower your “unpaid army” with ammunition to support you when a “foe” launches an attack.

    It is always a pleasure to hear your thoughts!

    Angela Dunn