While social media is generally a circus, this circus has had its star clowns performing very hard over the past three years.

Just after we recovered from the Penny Sparrow racist tweet in 2015, we saw a video on Facebook where racist estate agent Vicki Momberg unleased racist vitriol for all to see in 2016. Matthew Theunissen then had a go at the Department of Sport over their comments about not bringing major sporting events into South Africa until the quota representation in sport issue was addressed in 2016; and recently, we have seen Adam Catzavelos publish his racist views over social media.

The truth of the matter is, while social media has opened many doors for companies, it can also destroy the company with one errant tweet, Facebook status or viral video. All of the above parties lost their jobs over their racist rants and one wonders whether their companies faced irreparable damage as a result of these social media utterances. The website of St George’s Fine Foods, the family business that Catzavelos worked for and was fired from, was not accessible on the morning after Catzavelos’ video made the news.

Be aware

Companies generally trust their employees and encourage them to always bear in mind that they represent the company, even if they are dancing around drunk at Tiger Tiger.

So where does one draw the line when it comes to the burning desire to post stupid things on social media? I recently read an article on workspace.co.uk that opened my eyes to this.

The article points out that traditionally, companies have been able to control their brand message, by and large, through their communications and actions. But, as Bezos says, things have changed and brands, in effect, are now what people say about them and organisations can only attempt to control proceedings by influencing the conversation that is happening around their brand and, in particular, on social media. Social Media consultant Jo Dodds looks at the ramifications of a weak social media policy.

What impact does that have on how organisations engage with social media? Increasingly companies are using social media as part of their marketing mix. How they do this varies depending on the size of the organisation and their understanding of, and commitment to, these online conversations, tempered by their confidence in how to manage the process to get the best result with the least risk.

Small business owners have personal control over their social media

The article adds that Solopreneurs and owners of very small businesses who manage their own social media from their own commercial property are, of course, directly in control of their posting online. This may imply that there is less chance of them saying the wrong thing and damaging their brand.

However, the individual nature of the interactions can, sometimes, make it easier to let things slip that may not be appropriate, especially in cases where emotion takes over.

“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos, Founder, Amazon.com

For example, only last week a burger restaurant owner in Houston, Texas got a little overheated about a – rather bland – restaurant review and posted some ‘ranting’ tweets. There has been some backlash and he lost some followers. Clearly his rants had a potential negative impact on his brand but he also gained 100 new followers in 30 minutes, so in the end he may not agree. And this does throw up the old point about there being no such thing as bad publicity!

Should large companies encourage employees to use social media?

The article points out that with larger companies there is more scope for the organisation to interact with their audience by encouraging a number of employees to use social media via blogging as well as on platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

But in many cases it’s hard to convince larger companies that the advantages of opening up social media to employees outweigh the potential issues of employees saying the wrong thing online and potentially damaging the brand. Often employees aren’t actually allowed to create content online that can be attributed to their employer.

The article adds that blogging and social media can really help organisations to increase their visibility in the marketplace and the more employees engaged in this process the better, assuming they are well trained and that, vitally, the culture of the organisation supports this openness.

The challenge for organisations is to formulate and enforce policies and a culture that enables employees to interact and act online as advocates for the business whilst protecting the company from the potential negative effects of those interactions.

What happens to the brand if it goes wrong?

The article points out that a major concern is, of course, what happens if something goes wrong, if an employee says something that they shouldn’t or if a customer says something negative about the business.

Customer care training in dealing with complaints often focuses on the power of turning a complaining customer into a ‘raving fan’ by managing the complaint properly and that when handled well a complaint is often more useful in building a company’s reputation than a good comment or testimonial.

The article adds that in 2007, American chain Home Depot had some very poor feedback on MSN from a disgruntled customer, which prompted hundreds of similar comments on the board. As a result the new CEO responded in his own MSN article with an open apology asking for continuing feedback to enable the company to keep getting better.

They now closely monitor social media and respond quickly to any issues. One blogger has been prompted to post a blog about them entitled ‘Social Media to the Rescue! (A Customer Service Success Story)’ following the excellent resolution of a complaint that he had, which he’d tweeted about.

The extent of social media effects

What about when the online interactions aren’t made on behalf of the company or during working hours?

The article points out that Price Chopper in the US saw a tweet that was criticising them. They saw that the individual who had tweeted was employed by a business who they had some sort of commercial relationship with. And although the tweet wasn’t related to that relationship, and was on a personal account, they complained to the employing company that the tweet could jeopardise the relationship between the two companies and they requested that the employer take some action against the tweeter.

So, the tweet was written as a personal tweet by an individual, who may not have even considered his employer’s social media guidelines, if they existed, as this was on a personal account and yet Price Chopper felt there was enough of a connection that his employer should take some action.
The article adds that Price Chopper attempted to deal with the situation offline, but it was taken back online as it ended up on the blog of a friend of the individual concerned who disagreed with how the situation had been handled.

What happened in this case is that Price Chopper caused more damage to their brand than the original tweet did due to their ‘over the top’ reaction.

This case highlights the rather grey area of when online interactions may – or may not – be considered to be part of an individual’s relationship with their employer.

Negative customer reviews are harmful

So you’ve seen a social media faux pas and you have dealt with it to the best of your ability.

But wait there is more. As an article on revechat.com points out, the problems are only beginning.

The article points out that social media is also a big platform for customers to complain about your products and services. Not everyone will directly contact you for any issues, they may land on your social media company profiles and post complaints or negative feedback/reviews about your offerings. The more complaints you get, the more your brand will suffer. Undoubtedly it is one of the disadvantages of social media for your business.

Always remember one thing: each of the negative comment/tweet will have repercussions for your brand.

The article also provided some useful tips on how to manage this:

Regularly access company’s social media profiles for the latest comments;

Respond to customer complaints instantly and always solve their issue ;and

If unable to resolve, forward the complaints to the concerned departments and make sure that customers get the required solutions.

Social media ROI is difficult to measure

I think that it is important to point out here that we are not discouraging companies from being active on social media. On the contrary, there are a lot of benefits associated with being active on social media.

The revechat.com article points out that being active on most of the social media is undoubtedly very effective for your business what the main concern is the complex process of measuring ROI from all its campaigns. Though it’s a very daunting job, but actually not impossible.

For you, it’s important to know how much worth the marketing activities on social media is bringing to your company but it’s difficult to get the exact numbers.

Again, the article provides some useful tips about how to measure social media ROI:

There are a number of tools available like Hootsuite, Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Bitly, Buffer, Twitter Analytics etc. which provide different kinds of statistics to understand the effectiveness of campaigns on several social media channels.

It is important to note that your company is an extension of you, and you should be actively involved with managing what goes on in the social media space. Do not let your staff undo all of your hard work and sacrifices with one stupid tweet, Facebook status or viral video.