Five lessons to reduce the impact of social media storms

When a social media storm strikes, companies’ reputations can be on the line. These five lessons can help you respond more effectively.

Lightning storms

The rise of the interactive web and social media has given consumers more power to express their opinions than ever.

Sometimes, these opinions can begin to resonate and amplify across a large audience and escalate into a “social media storm.” This rising wave of outrage and anger may start as the concerns of a single customer but, through networking, ripples of discontent can rapidly escalate into a global public relations crisis that can leave lasting damage to an organization’s reputation.

No one is safe from the impact of online outrage. Anyone from an individual to a multinational company can become the target of internet anger – but the bigger you are, the more likely you are to become the focus of attention.

EY has identified five key lessons for responding to social media storms:


1) Prepare your organization

First, train your staff to avoid simple errors through clear social media and customer interaction guidelines. Next, assess the scope of potential reputational risks, and develop scenarios in which consumers could react negatively to each, as well as a range of possible responses. From this, you can develop a knowledge base with considered, preapproved responses to draw on in a crisis.


2) Find the right tools

An early warning system is core to professional social media storm management. Modern tools are able to get a strong sense of changes in user attitudes and behavior through spelling correction and acronym conversion, analysis of root words, identification of growth in activity and emerging trends, as well as automated semantic analysis to identify tone. These can help you identify issues before they develop into storms.


3) Detect and assess

In advance of a crisis, no one can say which terms will be relevant. The right tools can set off alarms for conversations that are not in the monitoring set, enabling a much faster response. But at this stage, tools can only take us so far – human assessment of identified trends is now vital to ensure that the threat is actually a threat.


4) Deploy the right countermeasures

If the threat is deemed credible and sufficient to respond, you now need to identify the appropriate options for action based on the information and scenarios developed in your knowledge base. Again, it is important to discuss and assess the situation independently of any automated assessments – sometimes it’s better to do nothing to avoid attracting more attention. At other times, a joke can diffuse a situation more than an official statement. This is a matter of human, not machine, judgment.


5) Learn from past experience

Every social media storm should be seen as an opportunity to sharpen a company’s profile and understanding of its public perception. After the storm, you should conduct in-depth vulnerability assessments to identify how the situation escalated, and what responses had the most positive and negative impact. This, in turn, will help you develop more effective measures and recommendations for action to be fed into your knowledge base to help you react more effectively next time.

Lightning storm

The upside of social media storms

It may not seem like it at the time, but social media storms can have positive side effects. As the reach and prominence of the object in question grows, so do the number of fans and followers on the social networks. All publicity is good publicity!

Most importantly, developing company social media management processes to help counter online outrage will also deliver valuable information on customers, products and markets that can be used in a variety of ways across the whole organization. Used effectively, it can help you to become a truly smart connected business.


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