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Social Media Best Practices: Don’t Let This Happen To You

I participated in an interesting Twitter chat this morning on some recent social media miscues. These mistakes had the Twitterverse abuzz, and got me thinking about best practices for any business looking to use social media in their marketing mix.

A Lapse in Social Media Policy

When British music retailer HMV terminated 190 employees earlier this month, they apparently forgot something – the keys to their company Twitter account were still in the hands of at least one targeted employee. The account gave a blow-by-blow as the axe fell, and it took a while before HMV got around to recovering control and issuing an apology.

The rogue tweets in this case weren’t that bad – nobody was savaged, and the tweets simply expressed disappointment with how things had turned out. Still, they demonstrated a lapse in process (and judgment) on the part of HMV management. At the very least, management should have revoked access to all accounts for terminated employees, including social media. That can best be accomplished by using a social media client like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite – you can change the twitter account password from anywhere BEFORE gathering the employee(s) in their last meeting.

Another business lesson here is that social media communication is a form of public relations, so where possible you should leave it in the hands of PR professionals. Any PR pro worth her/his salt wouldn’t risk their own reputation by messing with the company message, even if they were getting fired.

Oops Tweet

In the Canadian city of Vaughan, Ontario, another Twitter lapse occurred last month. This was not a rogue tweet so much as a “Oops” tweet – the tweeter got their accounts mixed up and sent a profanity-laden tweet from the municipal account. Oops…

The municipality quickly offered an apology, and temporarily deactivated the account as part of their investigation. (Some question the wisdom of shutting off the channel in the midst of a channel problem…) Once they determined the nature of the mistake, they re-activated the account and issued a “we’ll take steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again” message.

In this case, the person using the social media account used the wrong account to tweet their message. As someone with multiple accounts tied to my Tweetdeck, I’ve done this myself (although not to this embarrassing extent.) While it’s hard to totally eliminate simple mistakes, this is a training/policy issue. A “no personal social media” policy on work machines would prevent this from happening, and the employees can always use their smartphones to keep up with their personal accounts.

Red Cross Social Media Recovery

red cross social media recoveryHere’s an example of the right way to handle mistakes. In yet another “oops” tweet, a Red Cross social media specialist sent this personal tweet from the organization’s Twitter account.

It stayed up for about an hour, before management noticed it and took it down. They quickly posted a “mea culpa” tweet with a dash of humor, saying “We’ve deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we’ve confiscated the keys.”

The original tweeter also posted an apology on her personal account, expressing her embarrassment and citing unfamiliarity with Hootsuite as the culprit. Best of all, the beer company Dogfish Head got in on the act and asked its Twitter followers to donate to the Red Cross (using the #gettngslizzerd hashtag for another dash of humor.)

The takeaway here? When a mistake is made, deal with it quickly, openly, and honestly. If you screwed up, own up to it and move on. A little humor will also go a long way to blunting any potential blowback, and keep your social media brand from suffering any long-lasting effects.

Social Media Policy Points

So what are the takeaways from these and similar examples? Here are some points to consider when developing your social media policy:

  1. Leave Social Media to the professionals – For most companies, social media is a PR function. Hire yourself experienced social media people (NOT UNPAID INTERNS!!!) who understand PR, or better yet, some honest-to-God PR people. They’ll know how to maintain and manage your brand’s message, and can better handle off-the-script issues that might come up. Speaking of which…
  2. Prepare a Social Media Disaster Recovery manual – Don’t wait until something happens to figure out what needs doing. Anticipate possible issues (like rogue tweeting or the “oops”) and map out your recovery steps beforehand. That way, if an anticipated event occurs, you pull out the manual and go step-by-step through the process and handle it. Add an after-action review too, going over how things worked out and adjust the manual as needed.
  3. Establish a separation policy – For the “oops” instances, have some variation of employee policy that keeps business accounts and personal accounts separate. Maybe prohibit personal accounts from work machines, or maybe use a social media client (Tweetdeck, Hootsuite) for business accounts only. Either way, reduce or eliminate the possibility of that dreaded “oops” from happening to you – the key here is prevention.
  4. Include social media in hiring/firing process – Every HR department has a process for hiring and firing. Back when computers and network accounts became a work standard, HR adapted to address them (activating and deactivating accounts as needed.) It’s time to adapt those HR processes again to include social media accounts. Would HMV have had nearly as much of a problem if they had done this? I don’t think so.

Well, that’s a start. What other social media policy suggestions would you make? Comment away!

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