Social media is a great way for businesses to connect with customers and have meaningful interactions, but what happens when the interactions become unsocial?

Most companies are not prepared to deal with these social-media “unpleasantries.” Consider the environmental activism of Greenpeace against Nestlé. The organization posted a YouTube video critical of the food giant’s use of palm oils, the production of which is linked to deforestation. Nestlé had the video removed but then faced a barrage of complaints on its Facebook page. Or think of social-media squatting, such as the fake Twitter account (@BPglobalpr) that lampoons BP’s efforts to deal with the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Both highlight the dark side of social media.

How would your business handle a social-media attack by an upset customer, a disgruntled employee or an opposing organization?

Most businesses lack a clear plan. The widespread use of social networking shows that just one comment can trigger an outpouring that goes viral within minutes or hours. Just think of filmmaker Kevin Smith, of Clerks fame. When Southwest Airlines removed him from a flight because of his weight, his complaint online spread quickly because of his more than 1.5 million Twitter followers.

Here are ways that your business can be prepared for a social-media attack:

Be ready: Know and understand your business. Conduct an analysis of SWOT: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Take control of your company’s identity all over the Web: That means domain names, and ones that have a negative focus, such as Create unified user names in social networking platforms including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg and Flickr, to establish credibility, familiarity and trust, as well as control.

Monitor social networking platforms: There are free basic services that can track what is being said about your business. These include Google Alerts,; Whos Talkin,; and SocialMention, If you need more sophisticated monitoring, there are paid services available, including Vocus,, and Radian6,

Develop “rules of engagement” for employees: It is important that employees understand the appropriate use of social media, and guidelines for them should be developed. Policy Tool,, is a free service that can help draft customized social media policies.

Here’s what you can to when a social-media attack occurs:

Listen and understand what the negative commenters want: Do they want an apology? Acknowledgement? Do they demand change? Respond directly to the person. Social media is individual, so when responding, be personal, and don’t use the “corporate” tone.

Monitor and remain silent: Often, your brand champions will respond for you.

Remove the offending comment: This does risk blowback, as evidenced by Nestlé’s handling of Greenpeace’s YouTube video.
Social media is a two-way conversation. Negative conversations cannot be completely prevented, but effective interaction can take place.


This post was originally published on May 31, 2010 in the Lexington Herald-Leader.


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