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Social Media Conflicts: When the Conversation Goes Sour

|Aug 2|magazine12 min read

Written by Lisa Harrison

Lisa Harrison is director of creative agency POMO. She has a degree with Distinction in Media and Communications from QUT as well as Certificate IV TAE.  Currently, Lisa is rolling out the first Australian nationally accredited  Secrets To Social Media Mastery Certificate IV Business which she has written and teaches personally. She is passionate about "creating safe, supportive and structured social communities online."

Even before the Internet, social networking existed. In a nutshell, social networking is when a person uses already existing contacts to meet new people.  So being social is not new but the technology we use and they way we do it today is. Technology now makes this possible to do online, and not just face-to-face.

As companies increase their presence on social media, they increase their interaction with consumers, engaging in conversations that break down traditional barriers to communication. But at the same time, they also open themselves up to new risks.  As consumers are having conversations — with each other and with companies — businesses no longer have total control of the message the way they once did.

In March 2010, the impact of social media on a brands reputation was painted in red when environmental protection group Greenpeace, who are known for their unorthodox ways of bringing attention, created a parody video (but it’s somewhat gory, not funny) on YouTube of Nestlé’s KitKat chocolate bar product.

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Nestle requested that YouTube take the video down, triggering pandemonium on social media channels and further criticism. Yet the confectionary giant Nestlé was not prepared and their social media embrace was more than spurned by consumers; any online presence of Nestlé and subsidiary brands drew large quantities of vitriolic comments, viral video parodies, animated parodies of the company’s reaction to the reaction, and so on.

Much to the credit of the 140-plus-year-old Swiss-based company, they now have over 633K fans, but they also seem to have grown from the experience.  They have created a tab on their Facebook page entitled “Nestlé House Rules” where they warn users “To help keep the conversation flowing, we may remove posts which could be deemed inappropriate or offensive to others.”

With an increasing number of companies using social media, especially Facebook Fan Pages, to interact with consumers, it’s important to get it right. There’s an obvious lesson here for companies: if you do something wrong and people attack you in social media, being defensive gets you nowhere. There might be a lot of apathy about many important worldwide concerns, including the environment, but social media makes it easy for those who like to be vocal to actually be vocal and instigate concern.

To manage these risks, companies must establish and expand social media policies to help guide corporate activity and thinking in this area. Despite the rapid increase in their use of social media, very few companies have a social media policy in place.

To minimise the risk of a loss or damage to the company’s reputation, companies can take a number of steps:

  • Actively engage on social network venues to understand how reputation can be impacted by the interactions.
  • Gather information on the social media activities your company is considering.  Then assess the areas of vulnerability, create counteraction plans and communicate them to employees.
  • Develop a comprehensive “new media” policy. The policy should establish the ground rules for all employees — not just those in marketing — on communicating online, including social networking.
  • Establish a social media point person. There should be at least one person, if not a team, in charge of overseeing the company’s social media activities and responding in the event of a crisis.

While companies appear to be lagging when it comes to developing social media policies, there is no turning back the social media tide.  Every day, more and more people are joining social networking sites, reading blogs and following Tweets. Companies need to have a presence on social media to reach consumers where they are and to respond to their concerns as well.