Social media makes it easy to connect and be heard online in real time. But with all this freedom of speech and expression on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others, there's one question that's probably crossed your mind (or the minds of your Board members):
"Why risk going on social networks when people might say bad things about us?"
- What if people embarrass your organization?
- What if they point out your flaws?
- How can you maintain your e-reputation without yanking the social-networking rug out from under these vocal online talkers (i.e. removing your organization from the online space entirely)?
- Be Listening for It: Be sure you have Google Alerts set up to monitor what people are saying about your organization online. Keep tabs on Twitter (via Tweetbeep, for example) and YouTube.
- When You Find Something Dreaded, Assess Who Is Saying It and Who Is Listening. Is this one crazy person with no audience? You may want to wait and watch. Or is it someone who talks to people in your audience? Even one noisy person can be a problem if they have or can rapidly build a following with people who matter to you. Or if the traditional media picks up on their diatribe. I generally err on the side of judging someone worth responding to rather than ignoring them.
- Act Fast on the Spot Where It Started: If you need to respond, do it now, IN THE VENUE where the situation started. Slow reactions are bad reactions. Things move at light speed on web 2.0 and you don't want something to spiral out of control before you get in a response. It's okay if you don't have all the answers or every piece of needed information - just be TRANSPARENT about it. "I'm really concerned with this and looking into it" is better than radio silence. "I'm concerned our staff said that to you and am finding out what happened so I can give you the response you deserve" is better than nothing. By responding to a Tweet on Twitter, you ensure rapid communication as well as achieve the potential to keep the controversy within the community in question.
- Be Honest, Transparent, Friendly and Non-defensive: This is key. If there is misinformation out there, correct it in a helpful, non-combative way. Network for Good's own crisis communications plan (hope you have one, too) sets out the following principles if we've made a mistake:
- Be sincerely and profusely apologetic if we've done wrong.
- Take responsibility.
- Err on the side of open, frequent communication.
- Be absolutely honest.
- Ensure what we way is accurate - if we're not sure, say we're not sure.
- Do all we can to fix problems and mitigate harm.
- Say what we're doing to ensure it doesn't happen again.
- Remember It Is a Conversation: This isn't a monologue by the critic or by you nor (hopefully) is it a war-it's a conversation. When you respond, be open to reactions and answer questions. You can't post one response and call it a day, you need to keep tabs on the situation and participate in the ongoing conversation.