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How to survive a social media crisis

Reporting on social media disasters is our bread and butter here at The Hub, and it’s almost surprising how often brands keep messing up. Whether it’s Kenneth Cole, SpaghettiOs, Home Depot, AT&T, or The Golf Channel, social media is littered with the remains of too-clever tweets and other awful real-time marketing fails.

At the SXSW session titled “Tomorrow is Another Day: Surviving a Social Media Crisis,” there were plenty of tips for marketers on how to avoid getting written about (by people like me) for doing dumb things on the internet. The talk also focused on recovery, and assured people that they could in fact, work in this town again.

Panelists included Chapin Clark, EVP and managing director of copy at R/GA, Neal Mann, the multimedia innovations editor for The Wall Street Journal and Wendy Harman director of information management and situational awareness for American Red Cross. It was moderated by Kristen Joy Watts, associate creative director at R/GA.

In addition to the panelists, the talk also had short videos from social media practitioners who had majorly screwed up an lived to tell the tale.

Here’s what the panelists came up with, and its a pretty good set of rules to follow for any social media marketing team.

Don’t just tweet and and not respond.

For Mann, the worst thing a brand can do is put its head in the sand, hoping things will go away. He said it was a flawed understanding of how social works, and it was especially egregious when brands tweeted something and didn’t follow up on managing it. “There’s a certain tone deafness, the tweets look almost automated [when they get sent out]” said Mann. “They’ll publish something, turn the lights off and go home.”

Clark singled out SpaghettiOs for putting its offensive tweet up, and then leaving it up for hours without a response,  as people got angrier and angrier without the brand responding. “You have to say something, whether it’s something humorous, or an abject apology,” he said.

Don’t over explain

“Keep things simple, the worst thing you can do is over explain, and over apologize with too many details, giving people more ammunition.” – Chapin Clark.

Don’t edit the mistake, hoping people won’t notice

“People screenshot the mistake the moment it happens, they will notice it when you try to change it without an explanation.” – Neil Mann.

Don’t blame the intern

“It makes one think, who’s putting the intern in charge of a major publishing platform? You’re obviously completely inept.” – Neil Mann.

Don’t fight back

“Don’t get contentious with your community by starting to engage people in arguments and putting it back on them” – Chapin Clark.

Integrate PR with social

“For brands there’s a disconnect between departments, and when the social media team starts responding, it can seem very surface, so PR needs to get baked into every department.” – Wendy Harman.

How to recover:

Harman ended with a story about how her colleague accidentally tweeted about getting drunk from the Red Cross Twitter account instead of her own personal account. The tweet got picked up by several publications, who expressed some mild outrage, but mostly amusement at Red Cross’s apparent drunken tweeting. For Harman, she decided the organization needed to have a non-stuff response.

 “I actually love it when this happens to other people, I think it is the greatest window into the soul of the organizations” she said. Harman deleted the tweet, and came up with a funny tweet of her own in response to the debacle.

“We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys,” her tweet said, and she followed up with a blog post detailing how the faux pas had happened. The post got so much traffic it crashed the Red Cross site. (Leading to some pretty funny headlines, like “The Red Cross comes to its own rescue.”)

And despite all the negative press, the panelists agreed that if handled the right way – with a mix of sincerity and humor – social media screwups can end up being rewarding for the brand.

“The silver lining in these things? You always end up getting way more followers,” said Clark. 

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