Social Media Strategy: Prepare Your Panic Plan

The final step in a simple social media strategy comes down to preparation. Your company may never be up against the worst-case scenarios, but creating a responsibility workflow to avoid potential knee-jerk reactions is crucial to ensuring that your team remains level-headed if such a situation ever arises.

Fear surrounding severe negative customer service reactions is, by far, the number-one item that's top of mind for all levels of management. However, social media is positive and provides your company the opportunity for real-time customer feedback, glimpses into operational misfires, or potentially harmful employee practices. Regardless of whether the consumer has inflated their experience, your company has a chance to save that relationship and influence other potential customers. You'll also be able to use your conversations as a data mine to pinpoint operational faux pas that were previously hidden or untraceable.

While my "Prepare Your Panic Plan" headline may seem a bit harsh, the value of having a plan or responsibility workflow in place is as critical to your social media success as establishing your social media goals.

At its core, a Panic Plan is a daily communication plan that covers any situation. Taking the time - in advance - to prepare for neutral, positive, or negative online comments allows for agile action and the quick activation of additional resources. Most of the time social media will be "conversation" as usual, but at least your team will feel prepared and empowered if you ever do need to call in the reinforcements. It will also ease the fears of your operational and legal departments if you have a procedure in place.

Something new to be aware of: Facebook has made a functional change to its Page framework. Previously, a fan had to "like" your page to post or comment. No longer. Anyone, anytime, anyplace now has the ability to post about their experience with your company. This has changed the "social" game. Now, more than ever, you need to participate in daily communications and earn that "like" so fans stay connected long term. If you don't provide customer service, two-way engagement, and a reason for consumers to find value from your channel, you had better prepare yourself for a bumpy ride.

What not to do

To get your plan started, here are some best practices on what not to do:

  • Do not delete posts or comments unless severe profanity is involved.
  • Do not ignore a comment and pretend it isn't there.
  • Do not tell the guest they are wrong.
  • Do not post a bunch of status updates to try and hide the negative comments.
  • Do not try to "work out the dirty details" on your Facebook Wall or via Twitter streams.

If the situation should arise that you need legal counsel or have to fire up the PR engine, don't be afraid to create a blog or a link to a public acknowledgement regarding the attention being given to the matter at hand. It is better to acknowledge than it is to hide your head in the sand. A prime example of this is Taco Bell's lawsuit in 2011. Since Taco Bell had such a consistent social media presence, the company was able to offset and respond to a potentially harmful situation. This is a classic example of a prepared Panic Plan!

Keep in mind that a simple acknowledgement of any type of fan engagement is seen by hundreds of people before it's pushed down the Wall and out of sight. And, since Facebook Page and Place conversations are public and Google-searched, non-Facebook users may also view these conversations. You don't have to be logged into Facebook to formulate an opinion about customer service! The conversation dictates perceptions - regardless of fan count, likes, or shares.

If you establish a communication plan and follow it daily, you'll be prepared... and have an army of supporters who might just come to bat for you before you even have to call out the reinforcements.

Erica McClenny is director of enterprise engagement at Expion, a social media management and application company that helps businesses connect with customers through social media. Her passion lies in educating executives about the functions and nuances of social media channels, while collaborating with marketing and IT departments to build successful strategies. Contact her at or learn more about Expion solutions at

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