Public Relations: Your business's presence on social media is critical to its success

Contributing columnistMay 27, 2013 

Ann Marie van den Hurk

Social media is unpredictable and can turn explosive for organizations or businesses in an instant. But that shouldn't stop you from participating in social media. It is an ideal way to connect and build a relationship with your customers.

Let me explain.

Recently, restaurant owners in Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares found out how violate social media can be. Amy's Baking Company Bakery, Boutique & Bistro in Scottsdale, Ariz., was featured on the TV show where chef Gordon Ramsey works on saving failing restaurants.

Let's just say it didn't go very well for the business owners. Many viewers after seeing the episode took to the restaurant's Facebook page to denounce the owners and their practices. How the restaurant reacted to the negative comments is where the meltdown occurred. They lost control of their digital space with their less than professional responses and posts.

Your organization can't ignore social media. It is here to stay.

And those participating on social media aren't ignoring your organization whether your organization participates in social media or not.

Let's be honest, you can't be loved by everyone all of the time. And people are going to take to social media networks to express their feelings about your organization regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

But sometimes organizations can lose control of their online communities. And it can happen quickly. You then need to regain control of your online space.

There is nothing wrong with an organization bringing order to its online space. You wouldn't accept unruly and rude behavior in your physical location, so why accept it in your online space?

There are ways you can do this.

Here are some tactics you can take to help mitigate a meltdown in your online spaces:

■ Be fully present on social media platforms important to your customers. That means actually interacting with your community. When you have existing relationships, then often your online community will rally around you when negative views are being expressed about your organization.

■ Monitor your online presence. A great response begins with great listening. You need to be monitoring the online space for conversations about your organization and your industry. There are platforms which help you do that free or at affordable costs. However, nothing can beat actually being on your Facebook page, for example, regularly.

■ Have community guidelines in place. You should post on your online platforms terms and guidelines for acceptable community behavior.

There are times when you will have to regain control and you can do that by:

■ Enforcing community guidelines. If a person or group is behaving against those community guidelines, you can remove the offending comments. However, if comments are within those guidelines but you just don't like what is being said, you shouldn't delete. It is within your right to take an online property offline or disable comments.

■ Being mindful of tone when responding. How you respond is important. Never respond in a dismissive or impolite manner, or you will only add fuel to the fire. Don't allow yourself to give knee-jerk responses. Walk away to cool off, then respond.

■ Listen and understand what the poster wants, then respond to it if warranted. You can respond publicly and have an open conversation. Or you can acknowledge the concern and then take it offline. How you handle a particular situation depends on the factors involved.

While you can't control what people say about you, you can control how you manage the situation. You can bring order to your online space.

Ann Marie van den Hurk is an award-winning, accredited public relations professional and principal of Mind the Gap Public Relations. She proudly called Lexington home but now lives in North Carolina. She is also the author of the book Social Media Crisis Communications: Preparing for, Preventing, and Surviving a Public Relations #FAIL. Email her at ann@mindthegappr.com, or follow her on Twitter at @amvandenhurk.

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