You must not…in fact, you cannot underestimate the productive and destructive potential of your staff and here’s why.
Your employees create your product, market it, promote your company and relate with your customers.
Basically, they are the heart and soul of your company and you understand this, which is why you pay them handsomely well and you have created a good structure and atmosphere at work. You have done all you can to earn their loyalty and this is commendable. You have really done well so allow yourself a round of applause.
Then one day, your company’s social media accounts start buzzing with thousands of mentions, your brand name is trending on Twitter at number three worldwide with one of those #BoycottThisBrand hashtags. Your official phone lines are ringing around the clock and the email inbox has 16,583 new messages.
Yes, you have a full-fledged Social Media Crisis on your hands, and boy it is not fun. What happened?
In all probability, a member of your team has just goofed on his personal social media page and his wife’s cousin’s friend’s son’s teacher happened to see the post and shared it at 9pm the previous night. Overnight the post went viral and it has gathered 2,500 comments on Facebook, 1,985 comments on Instagram and 4,000 Reweets on Twitter. A big red bullseye has been painted on your brand name and the ever-reliable Internet Police is shooting you with all they’ve got.
You summon the remorseful staff member to your office and question them angrily – What in the name of God have you done? – and they inform you amidst tears that they were under stress / they didn’t think it was a big deal / didn’t know their privacy settings allowed people outside their family to see their posts / were hacked by those Chinese Internet Hackers who apparently go through all the trouble of hacking a secure website only to post an amazingly detailed account of how much an individual on another continent detests working for your brand and his boss wears smelly socks to work. So you then place the offending staffer on a one-week unpaid suspension and you set about trying your best to repair the damage done to your brand.
However there is only so much you can do. The negative press reports keep rolling in. Newspapers publish the story in the midweek centre spread under the headline “XYZ Under Fire On Social Media After Employee Posts ABC”. Some bored university students in Lagos make a parody song and an animated video about it which goes viral. Memes start finding their way onto Twitter and Instagram. The Urban Dictionary now includes a heading for your brand name with an embarrassing definition under it. Some high school kid with too much time and Internet allowance to burn edits your brand’s Wikipedia page to include the incident. Huffington Post and the Daily Mail pick up the story and run with it: “Nigerian Firm Becomes Subject Of Internet Mockery After Employee Posts Embarrassing Account Of XYZ.”
Your competitors subtly or not-so-subtly join the social media lynch mob and your patronage gradually declines. Profits are falling. Your investors start calling your personal number. Employees start to jump ship and everything you have built is crumbling to the ground…
Thankfully this has not actually happened to your brand…yet. However this could well be your story if you do not take proactive action to ensure an avoidable social media crisis does not erupt.
Here are a few steps you may want to take.
1. Create or adjust your social media policy: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If your brand does not include a social media policy in its employee code of conduct, then create one. If it is not explicit enough or it does not address specific scenarios, adjust it accordingly.
2. Properly educate your staff on social media: Understand that you cannot monitor your staff social media accounts 24/7 or force them not to post content you find unacceptable, but you can enlighten them on how best to use the social media. You could invite a reputation management expert to explain how to avoid social media pitfalls to them.
3. Expect the unexpected: Despite everything you have put in place, it is not possible to completely eliminate defaulters or errors. Some will make errors of judgement. Automatic spellcheckers and auto-correct features on smart devices can distort social media messages. There may indeed be a hacker from Shanghai who spends his time and resources hacking into Twitter handles in Agege just because – apparently such is the story of humanity. Plan and prepare for such emergencies. Have a monitoring system to become aware of them before they snowball into Internet tsunamis so that you can come up with an action plan quickly.
Above all, maintain a good rapport with your stakeholders and ensure that there is constant communication between your brand and the general public, consumers, employees and investors. You always have a chance at surviving a social media crisis without too much damage if you have a strong brand.