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How to Deal with Social CRM Communication Crises

There are many Social CRM companies that have faced PR disasters and lived to tell the tale — for example, Comcast and its sleeping representative. Many of those disasters occurred when social media was new, and few companies were prepared to handle the ramifications of an inappropriate response.

Surprisingly, even though we’re about five years into using this technology, many companies are still unprepared. According to Deloitte’s 2010 Ethics & Workplace Survey, 40 percent of executives report that their company doesn’t allow access to social media sites at work. Other companies ignore the issue and hope their current policies will suffice. Either approach does the business a disservice.

The rewards of engaging your business in social media far outweigh the risks. For example, according to comScore’s white paper Its a Social World, you can reach 82 percent of the worldwide online population through social networks. Can your company really afford to restrict communication with that many potential customers? That said, the risks are real.

Set expectations for social media responses

Can you really avoid PR crises? Case studies on the topic suggest that at the very least you can mitigate them, but first let’s look social media crisis. Clearly, corporations have faced bad publicity in the past, so what makes social media disasters particularly frightening to managers of all levels?

Here are a few ways social media has changed the way businesses handle their PR:

  • Your company must react more quickly because PR crises on social media spread quickly. In the past when something happened to a person, it was unlikely that she or others around her would have a camera ready to take video of the whole incident. Now with the presence of smartphones, cameras are always available.

  • Social media gives people with bad news about your business a broader audience. In the case of an airline when it loses your property or does something disrespectful to a passenger, it’s more likely to be a big embarrassment.

  • Social media makes employee blunders with confidential information more public. Now, it is just as likely that a blog post or a Facebook comment could release the information before the corporation is ready.

These are just three differences. There is the potential for so many more. With this in mind, your business must prepare to face any kind of PR disaster without much warning. To do so, make sure your business has policies and procedures in place and trains employees in following these measures.

A study by Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group called Social Business Readiness offers some insight into how your business can prepare. In the study, companies that prepared ahead of time and trained their employees were able to avert a majority of the potential crises they faced.

The companies (dubbed advanced) in the study identified the following four internal requirements that led to the successful handling of a crisis. These requirements are worth considering when you’re evaluating your own crisis response readiness:

  • Baseline governance and reinforcement: Make sure your policies outline what employees can do and how to do it in a professional manner.

  • Enterprise-wide response processes: Your processes should define the workflow for engaging in social media, responding to a crisis, and determining appropriate responses to customers.

  • Ongoing education program and best practices sharing: Based on the success of companies in the study, your company will be better prepared for a crisis if you encourage sharing of effective procedures throughout the organization.

  • Leadership from a dedicated and shared central hub: In defining your social media processes, establish a central hub that guides the entire organization in following best practices for social media engagement.

Employee training on social media

In the case of social media, employees need specific training on how to avoid PR disasters, but the training shouldn’t be narrowly focused. In addition to preparing employees to deal with disasters, trainers should teach employees how social media tools help the company thrive.

When you’re thinking about creating or obtaining training for employees on social media, some specific training content for PR disasters includes these items:

  • Create written guidelines. Make sure to document policies and make sure that everyone knows where to find them. Let everyone know the name of the person or department that is responsible for them.

  • Keep an up-to-date knowledge base. Use knowledge base software to keep updating and refreshing the information employees have access to. As employees become more practiced in their use of social media, you want to make sure that they share that knowledge with everyone who could benefit.

  • Assess your employees and do training updates. Don’t assume that one training session will keep your employees informed. It’s the corporation’s responsibility to keep employees abreast of changing policies and procedures.

  • Use visuals to assist work flow. Don’t underestimate the power of a flow chart or other visuals that show employees who’s responsible for what and how the workflow proceeds. Keep that current so that if people leave or change departments, you don’t render the chart meaningless.

  • Make sure you’re in touch with your audience. No amount of social media training will prevent a disaster if you’re out of touch with your customers. If you don’t know what they think, you’ll be blindsided by their reactions.

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