Plan on a #SocialMediaFail
Plan on a #SocialMediaFail
Plan on a #SocialMediaFail

Web 2.0 users seem to have an obsession with sharing news about the digital misfortunes of people and brands.

Nowhere do the mistakes, poor practices and questionable judgement of individuals, organizations and brands get exposed with such glee as they do in the sphere of the social web. It’s no wonder some CEOs or senior decision-makers entrusted with the stewardship of brands break out in a cold sweat at the simple mention of the words “social media.”

Mark Schaefer wrote a great post about Negativity Bias as it relates to the social web and how this phenomenon has created a playing field rife with PR land mines for anyone active in the space. Schaefer sparks dialogue at the end of his post by posing the following question:

“In a world where Negativeity Bias is gasoline on a viral fire, and one misstep can overwhelm years of positive work cultivating raving fans, why would anybody take a risk on the social web?”

The answer to that question depends on the culture of your organization.

Closed organizations that try to control the flow of communication and are punitive when it comes to mistakes will play it safe. They may still use social media but not in ways that color outside the lines. On the other hand, organizations that encourage more open communication and empower employees to make decisions will take risks. They will continue attempting to be innovative in the ways they communicate with their audiences using social media.

I prefer to look at the social web as an opportunity to elevate your organization above the competitive fray. Consequently, the question I like to ask is “How do you mitigate and/or understand the risks of social media innovation within your organization?”


Implementing the following social media governance initiatives will help mitigate the risks of digital missteps and reduce the level of collateral damage to your organization:

  • Guidelines – Outlining acceptable uses of social media, how it fits into the organization’s communication mix and how it benefits the organization serves to educate employees about the conduct parameters and purpose of the social web.
  • Education – Training is a great way to introduce employees and strategic partners such as agencies to social media best practices while simultaneously reinforcing guidelines.
  • Support – It’s important to implement a support infrastructure to help embed and reinforce initial training. Identify a support person on the social media team that can act as a resource when it comes to employee questions/concerns to help cut potential issues off at the pass.

Emergency Preparedness

Social Media Rules of Engagement (Source: David Armano,; Click to Enlarge)

Assume you will have social media missteps and be prepared (ahead of time) to deal with them.

It’s not the mistakes made using social media that cause brands the biggest problems, it’s how poorly or slowly they deal with them. How your organization addresses criticism or mistakes speaks volumes about your brand and can impact the level of audience vitriol and the time it takes for an issue to subside.

Have a plan in place that outlines:

  • the communication process
  • social media team roles & responsibilities
  • deliverables
  • the issue resolution schedule

Risk Perception

Understand the real risk of a misstep when considering new social media ideas and campaigns.

No organization likes bad press and would prefer that customers and prospects are always happy with their products, services and policies. But the reality is that managing negative audience feedback, opinions and expectations is a part of business. Tough decisions are made by organizations everyday knowing full well that  minor percentages of their audience base will voice their disagreement. Why shouldn’t the same attitude apply to social media?

We are equally quick to forget about an issue and move on to the next thing as we are to retweet a mishap.

It seems that with the glut of information that passes over us everyday most people’s attention spans are so fractured that they simply don’t have the time or interest to ruminate on an issue. If your organization handles social media missteps authentically and honestly those issues are likely have a shorter shelf life.

Social media is like any other strategic business channel – your organization will need to push the envelope and take risks in order to progress, evolve and gain a competitive advantage. Do you think the risks are worth the rewards? How much real damage will brands sustain if social media missteps are managed properly? The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Mark Smiciklas
Mark Smiciklas is a Digital Strategist, author and President of Intersection Consulting; a Vancouver based digital marketing agency that teaches organizations how to leverage the dynamics of the web to achieve business goals. Mark is an established marketing and social media practitioner recognized for his visual thinking and practical strategic approach. You can connect with him on Google+.

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