The Need for a Social Media Firestorm Policy

Online Corporate Reputation
Knowledge Center


Kevin Timpy
Turnaround Manager, United States

The Need for a Social Media Firestorm Policy

Social Media Policy Companies aren't really set up to interact efficiently with individual customers. Companies are organizations, filled with teams of people, doing their particular tasks.

Companies have lots of customers. Individual customers can, and do, get upset, when the company disappoints them. Now, thanks to the many channels available to them, customers - even one customer - can make a big stink, in a big hurry. Marketers need to react quickly, and in the right way.

This is a big problem for everyone right now, particularly in marketing and customer service. Unfortunately, I see more "head in sand" behavior than a mature recognition that this is a problem that must be handled, and not just at the tactical level.

C-level executives aren't thinking of social media strategically, and they haven't thought through what they should do if they suddenly find themselves in a social-media firestorm.
Instead, they are thinking of social media as another marketing tactic, and assigning almost-intern-level people to the task of "listening and responding." It's all a bunch of chatter, and it's "out there," and it must be addressed/responded to, but that's about it.
Meanwhile, marketers know they're sitting on a digital volcano. They know they're not seeing all the mentions they need to see. Worse, they also aren't taking the lead in helping C-level executives think about this stuff strategically.

A social media policy needs to be drafted. It should contain all the "what if" scenarios, and how you should best respond to them. In other words, what could go wrong - and how you should respond when it does.

Categories of potential social media firestorms include:
  • Product problems could include something really terrible happening to a person who used the product.
  • People problems include someone leaking information, or being "outed" for something they did or said.
  • Process problems include frustrating or misleading website/ecommerce functions, and all of the ways your company interacts with the customer.
  • Policy problems almost always involve a trust issue - such as privacy, security, or suppression of the truth.
One other category: An inflammatory accusation that goes viral. It's important that these issues be addressed immediately, and by the CEO. A tweet from the CEO, saying, "We're looking into it," can keep that volcano from going into full eruption mode. And then, of course, appropriate action must be taken and communicated.

Part of the policy should be that marketers have immediate access to the CEO in case of a social media firestorm, so the CEO and the marketers can decide on the proper course of action. With a policy already in place, they can do this in "social time" - fast enough to resolve the issue and take the heat out of the storm.


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