Be Careful What You Ask For: 4 Rules To Mitigate Risk With Social Engagement Strategies

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Recently I saw yet another case of a social media “campaign” campaigning for something completely the opposite of its original intention.

Dr. Oz’s social media team set out to solicit health questions from his 3.58M followers. An idea that seems harmless, well helpful really.

Dr. Oz asked Twitter for health questions

And it was helpful…for some.

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But for most…it was just humorous…

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Long story short, it got a little out of hand.

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And there are plenty, plenty more.

Now, I’m not here to re-hash the Dr.Oz story. But I am here to ask, was this preventable? And if not, what does that mean for social engagement strategies? And, how do you respond when your hashtag is taken over?

Those are some pretty lofty questions. But in my experience, I’ve found that honesty, trust, and transparency are the keys to getting through or preventing something like this from happening. It’s happened before (remember Bill Cosby Memes gone wrong?) and it will happen again.

And this is precisely what scares big and small brands alike from trying to actively engage with people on Twitter. The problem is, interaction is what Twitter is meant for. You can’t go around it. You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You have to go through it. It’s the only way to get to the other side of the Twitter success and karmic bliss.

There will always be risk. But there are steps you can take to mitigate that risk:

RULE #1: NEVER IGNORE & ALWAYS PARTICIPATE

Check out Dr.Oz’s Twitter feed. There is nothing, nada, zilch in response to this hashtag takeover. If you’re going to be on Twitter, you have to actively participate. You can’t ignore conversations, and you especially can’t ignore the 254 tweets (according to Topsy) that you solicited with your ostensible “Q&A.” Let’s face it, there’s no “A” happening here, except for the “A” that stands for “Avoidance.” So, responding is a must. And when you do…

RULE #2: BE HONEST & PROACTIVE

The collective vent session via #OzInbox is the result of quite a few publicly harmful tidbits provided by a licensed doctor. Something Dr. Oz has never spoken out to apologize for or even defend. We get it…Things happen. You will say things that wish you had never said or things that will come back to bite you (and probably somewhere you really, really don’t want to be bitten). If you don’t proactively nip this kind of stuff in the bud by giving your own HONEST and transparent response, then when your attempt at engaging via a Q&A will likely garner the same results as Dr.Oz’s. People will use it as a chance to converse with you finally. And this conversation will, most likely, not be good. Consider the Renee Zellwiger new face controversy a few weeks ago. Twitter was abuzz about her supposed plastic surgery and her response was perfect. What happened after? People gave her kudos and moved on.

RULE #3: FOSTER CONVERSATION AS A HABIT, NOT AS A ONE-OFF. 

It’s disingenuous to begin a conversation for the sake of engagement, with no intention of actually engaging. You can’t post a Q&A that sits among several other auto-scheduled tweets. If you are going to participate on Twitter, make sure you participate as often as possible. As often as regulations allow. And, as often as the industry demands. If not, when do you post a question, it will seem coerced – like something your social team developed, without fully thinking it through. And that’s frustrating to everyone, not just social media nerds like me.

RULE #4: BE READY.

No matter what the conversation is that you’re trying to start or be a part of, be ready for anything. Have responses ready. Know your brand personality and use that to drive how you participate in the conversation and how you might respond to any negativity. Check out Taco Bell for instance. Its brand personality is snarky. So it tweets that way and it responds to conversations and mentions whether they’re positive or not:

Taco Bell Twitter Responses
Now, not all brands can be Taco Bell. But they can be creative and true to their brand. If that means needing to create conversation guidelines and examples, do it. If that means having one creative and conscientious person man your feed, than do it. This is how you prevent negativity and come out on top.

The morale of the story is this: the only way to prevent negativity is to be there and be prepared, always. And to recognize that when you’re playing in the conversational, two-way, two-to-many world that social media has created, you have to have to have to interact and you have to expect the unexpected. Otherwise, the consequences could be dire.

How do you plan for Twitter crises or foster engagement on Twitter?

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