Social media plan vital

22:01, Sep 08 2013

You can't please everyone all the time - and that is why small businesses must have some sort of crisis management plan in place for their social media use, say digital marketing experts.

But the bigger problem is not the lack of a crisis plan, it's the lack of any plan, said Richard Conway, managing director of digital consultancy Pure SEO.

Most small to medium enterprises (SMEs) leapt into social media just because they felt they should, but with no strategy of how to effectively use it.

As well as managing potential crises, a plan - including mapping out content for 12 months - allowed SMEs to be more confident in their use of the media, and freed them up to be reactive and swift should a crisis occur, Conway said.

"Every business will have some detractors no matter how customer-centric their business is," he said.

"One of the best strategies we've come across is a client who, between 8am and 6pm, would respond to any comment, positive or negative, within an hour of being posted.

"By doing that they engaged with their customers, dealt with issues in a timely manner and managed to turn several negatives into positives by dealing with issues in an open and frank manner."

Kaylene Moore, digital marketing consultant and director of The SEO Hub, said turning potentially negative situations into positive ones was one of the biggest opportunities social media offered SMEs.

People had always, and would always, talk about businesses and sometimes in a negative way, she said.

At least on social media they were doing it in a forum where businesses could hear about it and act on it.

"It is a massive opportunity that businesses didn't have before social media," Moore said.

"The trick is to respond in a sensible way."

While a full crisis-management plan was probably not a practical use of time and resources for SMEs, a simple one-page plan for users to refer to would be useful, and covered an SME from a governance point of view if something did go wrong.

That plan should include setting up alerts, so every time someone engaged with your business on social media you knew about it.

"It's not realistic to be monitoring your page constantly, but alerts let you know when someone has posted and you can check it out, and respond in a timely manner if you need to," she said.

Responding quickly, respectfully and giving the poster a chance to take the discussion offline was the best approach, Moore said.

Another key part of the plan should be making sure your security and admin settings were managed appropriately for your business situation she said.

"Spend an hour online and learn - for free - how to best use a social media platform that will actually have a positive impact on your business, rather than have staff waste hours of time on it with no return," Moore said.

Sites such as YouTube and Grovo had a huge library of instructional videos that were useful for SME owners wanting to learn more about using and managing their social media, she said.

Most importantly SME owners should not let the "fear factor" of negative feedback for their brand prevent them from using social media.

"You really have to let that go because social media offers such a huge opportunity for businesses," Moore said.

"Social media is not brand control. Social media is designed for people to listen, engage, and share thoughts, information and ideas - good or bad. The key is knowing how to turn negatives into opportunities.

"And remember social media moves quickly. Another couple of status updates and everyone has moved down the page."

Conway offered the following tips for what SME owners should not do as part of their general use of social media as well as crisis management:

* Don't delete. Deleting someone's negative post can antagonise the antagonist and others reading the comments will see you've dealt with it that way rather than responding in way that placates the commenter. Of course if the post is offensive, delete away.

* Don't ignore it. Ignoring a negative comment can also often antagonise people who may otherwise have been easily placated.

* Keep one message. If a company operates franchises or multiple branches try to ensure they all stick to the same social media account, rather than setting up individual ones for each branch. Multiple pages can be damaging to the brand as a whole as they may not stick to brand guidelines or writing style and comments may not represent the brand as a whole.

* Use your account. Setting up a social account, starting to use it then leaving it abandoned for years or months without an update, is damaging to the brand. Social sites often appear in search engine results and an abandoned page does not look good.