“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” so sayeth investment guru and all-round multi-billionaire Warren Buffet. These are wise, wise words, Mr Buffet that withstand the test of time with just one minor amendment.

Today, it can take just five seconds to ruin your reputation in the digital age of social media where customer complaints can be posted and liked among your company’s online community and shared by your customers to their online communities in a matter of clicks.

Businesses need to be responsive and in order to be responsive you have to be prepared. I’ve written about this before in another post Crisis Management: Owning It, that looks at managing more public relations style crises using a couple of case studies – Telstra (the good) and Gold Bus Ballarat (the cringe-worthy).

This post is focused on the digital space, which ideally forms part of a Crisis Management Strategy your business has on hand for staff to use when the proverbial hits the fan. I’ll give you a low-down on some steps to follow in the event of a digital crisis below but please note your Crisis Management Strategy should cover all bases.

When a crisis hits, remember its best to prepare for the absolute worst. Think about holding statements and messages for a range of scenarios you can use online (Social Media, chat rooms or forums, etc), internally (what to say to staff and when) and via more traditional channels like mainstream media – print, TV and radio.

For now, let’s stick to digital crisis management. Here are my 7 steps to keeping calm, in control and turning a complaint into an opportunity.

  1. First things first – use Social Media Monitoring Tools. You need to know a crisis is actually happening so you can respond and stay on the front foot. UK Agency Our Social Times has put together a great list of the best free monitoring tools
  2. Set the right expectations up front – before I jump into the ‘Respond’ step. Set up all your social media profiles with a comment about how often the pages are monitored so people who post complaints or queries will know when they can expect a response.
  3. Respond, respond, respond – you’ve got to get back to people and quickly. Please note, you don’t have to have the answer right away but you do need to show you’re taking action. It could be as simple as ‘Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We will investigate with our <relevant department> and get back to you asap.’
  4. Never delete posts – always be transparent. I used to work in a company when they’d say ‘that makes us look really bad, just delete it and we can call them directly’. WRONG! This makes you look worse. Removing negative posts looks like you don’t care about your customers, are not interested in what they have to say or in helping them find a solution.
  5. Keep your cool. Let’s say the complainant is a known agitator or just plain rude or inflammatory. Whatever they write, respond respectfully and as quickly as possible with the best information and actions to take. Protect your brand. Be the class act.
  6. Post Moderation Guidelines – let your customers know what behaviour will and will not be tolerated on your social media pages. This becomes the perfect response to any offensive posts – refer to the guidelines, how they were violated and inform them the post will be removed.
  7. Have a dedicated team – and update account access when teams change!!! Always nominate team members that are trained and ready to execute on your crisis management plan. When crisis strikes, it’s a good idea to add these team members to an on-call roster to ensure you continue monitoring the situation 24/7. AND remember to update account access when team members leave, I can still jump into a few pages of former employers – of course, I won’t. But, don’t leave yourself open to the risk of a disgruntled former employee hacking your page – that’s a crisis in itself (and should also be covered in your plan, just in case).

So, digital crisis management, much like any crisis management is really all about the set up and preparation. Once your plan is in place, its execution should be easy. Cuckoo knows from experience how much a crisis management plan can save a business from potential disaster. If you’d like a few insights from us on how crisis planning can safeguard your reputation, give us a call.

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