In the end, US Airways didn't end up firing the social media manager whose unfortunate keystroke sent a pornographic image to the airline’s more than 400,000 followers on Twitter. It determined this was not an act of malicious intent, but rather an honest mistake.
Still, the incident and others before it, for example an IAC PR executive’s ill-conceived tweet before boarding an overseas flight, raise issues that surely keep brand and reputation managers awake at night. How can they ensure their own "media" channels remain devoid of controversial content that can damage their brands?
Unlike a negative story in the news media, social channels such as Facebook and Twitter have an inherent capacity for negative messages to amplify and propagate quickly. Pete Blackshaw, Nestlé’s global head of digital and social media, recently noted at a conference: "What happens in the social world is that if you get that right, you get disproportionally rewarded. If you get it wrong, you get disproportionally punished or outed. There’s a real cost to getting it wrong."
If US Airways was guilty, it would be for allowing that pornographic image to languish for an hour or more on its widely followed Twitterstream before removing it. This resulted in more than 500 retweets and shares and considerable brand turbulence, so to speak. Here are five steps companies can take to ensure their "owned" channels and those who manage them serve to advance their reputation and business.
- It takes a certain kind of person to be an effective social media manager. Fluency in social media is one thing, but good instincts are equally if not more important. It was Mondalez's social media manager who, on a whim, tweeted out the famous Super Bowl blackout/Oreo tweet that caught fire and accrued positively to the brand. When interviewing candidates, companies would be well served to present actual scenarios and ask how they would react.
- We've recognized for years the importance of having social media guidelines in place for not just social media managers, but for rank-and-file employees as well. Now, as companies and brands use their owned channels to break news or capitalize in real-time on current events, the importance of these guidelines cannot be overstated.
- For most companies, when the social media manager goes home or takes a vacation, the monitoring and moderation stops. It is vital that the brand is protected 24/7 across all channels in multiple languages. This may demand outside services, which are invariably more cost-effective than building an internal team.
- For companies with multiple brands and channels – often siloed – it’s important to share and codify best practices internally.
- Finally, for companies with hundreds of thousands of followers across multiple brands and channels, a small, dedicated team can no longer efficiently identify and expunge offensive content in real-time across multiple languages. In the last few years, we have seen the introduction of new automated technology and methodologies for social moderation that allows companies to more cost-effectively scale this important function. There are no excuses today for a brand to be exposed and at risk for even more than 15 minutes.
Adam Hildreth is founder and CEO of Crisp Thinking.