Guest blog: Social media guidance

The ability to get feedback from your audience in near real time is tempting. The ability to tell your friends and connections about the latest juicy bit of gossip, scandal or news is so simple. But online citizen journalism is becoming a runaway train. Once a status has been broadcast, a tweet sent, or a blog post published, the genie is out of the bottle, never to return. Sometimes we don’t realise the consequence of our actions on social media and we can be harsh judges when brands make errors.

  • Last year Qantas grounded all of its planes over a union dispute. Its PR team meanwhile launched a marketing campaign asking people to tweet about their idea of luxury using a hashtag #Qantasluxury. Within 20 minutes of the launch of the marketing campaign, messages were appearing such as "I think #Qantasluxury is flying in a plane where every nut and bolt has been checked and double checked by someone in Australia who cares".
  • Philip Schofield handed a card with a list of Tory politicians that were allegedly linked to sex abuse with children to Prime Minister David Cameron on ITV’s This Morning. Lord McAlpine’s name was visible on the card; his name appeared on Twitter and quickly propagated around the Twitterverse. No one bothered to check whether the story was actually true. Steve Messham claimed that a senior political figure of the time had abused him; after seeing the photo of Lord McAlpine he stated this was not the person he had identified to the police. An error had been made and propagated.

The challenge is that social media, by its very nature enables images, notifications and messages to be broadcast, rebroadcast, shared and forwarded. If the information has not been checked and validated then rumours can spread unchecked.

Yet social media has also been applauded for its ability to support people in a crisis where just-in-time communication is important for the local community. 

  • After super storm Sandy devastated the New York area, people turned to social media to set up support networks and information points following the disruption of electric power. Facebook pages such as Long Beach NY, Hurricane Information, Breezy Point Hurricane Sandy Information and the Hurricane Sandy group have almost 20,000 followers. The pages offer information on donations, offers of help, food and amenities.

Things can go well, and things can go badly. Fortunately there are two key things that you can do to avoid issues:

  1. Make sure that you have effective social media guidance at your company. 
  2. Make sure it is workable, effective, and that all of your staff are trained in its proper use from a business and personal perspective. 

Social media fires break out when you least expect them. Make sure you have all the correct procedures in place to fight the fire quickly and effectively - with no casualties, cover-ups or compensation claims.

Are there any other recent examples where you’ve seen a good or bad example of social media use in business?

About the author
Eileen Brown is the CEO at Amastra, author of BCS book 'Working The Crowd' and social media columnist at CBS Interactive.

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