Give humans a chance to operate something, and at some point a mistake will most likely be made. It’s what makes us unique from each other. Sometimes mistakes can result in big breakthroughs that provide new opportunities and success. Other times we wish there was a rewind button. When it comes to social media, businesses are no different than individuals; posts, comments, SEO tags, local connections and tweets all have the potential of going askew from what was intended. The difference between a smart company and one that fumbles with online presence is how the mistake is handled.
There are plenty of stories about how mistakes on social media can quickly turn into ugly public relations challenges for companies big and small. Take the example of Gilbert Gottfried, the former voice of the AFLAC duck, making joke comments online about the Japanese Tsunami, or the Belvedere Vodka brand running a social media ad that looks the company is condoning a sexual assault. These are extreme, but they are also prime examples of how an online goof can result in really damaging impressions.
The first thing a company needs to do when a mistake occurs is to cut off the damage quickly, clearly, and in a concise way. AFLAC made that point clear when it fired Gottfried the next day after the news broke. If the mistake is an obvious problem, then the repair needs to be just as obvious to the public.
Second, where a social media mistake encouraged some kind of action, such as coupon or a discount, and the readership tried to take action, the company should follow through and honor those consumers who took advantage of the opportunity. Walmart chose not to do this and garnished itself a lot of bad press when its website posted the wrong product prices. Technically, Walmart had made an offer, mistake or not, and people accepted. The company should have followed through, taken the minor loss, and fulfilled the orders. Doing so goes a long way towards bolstering a company’s reputation with consumers. Instead, Walmart showed its ugly side, and it was all over the news in November 2013.
Third, a company needs to identify clearly how the mistake occurred to make sure it doesn’t happen again. There’s no point in correcting a goof if it’s going to be repeated again a week later. Find the problem, fix it, and proactively prevent the problem from occurring again.
Finally, do not engage in a comment war with posters and online hecklers. Simply state the facts and move on. Companies that make the mistake of ongoing dialogue in public forums only stand to lose credibility with consumers. Instead, taking a lump quickly and moving forward allows everyone to forget the issue faster.
Mistakes happen irrespective of how perfect a system is run. However, many can be stifled and dealt with quickly if a company response focuses on damage control. Letting an issue continue to spin almost always generates a bigger problem. So respond quickly and smartly, and social media goofs won't turn into nightmares.