Socially Irresponsible

Some small business owners don’t believe in using experts for social media engagement and content development. They see the practice as novel and unproven – until it isn’t.

Such is the case of The Union Street Guest House in Hudson, N.Y. This picturesque small town inn quickly discovered the demonstrative impact of social media when comments about a fines-for-reviews policy hit the inn’s Facebook page and Yelp, the popular online review site.

According to an ABC News story resulting from the social media dust-up, the inn claims its “policy” was posted to its website as a tongue-in-cheek response to a wedding from years ago and should have been taken down. The policy in essence stated bridal parties would be fined $500, taken from deposit monies, for each negative review the inn might receive connected to a particular wedding or event.

A Google search for the inn's name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business' bottom line.

A Google search for the inn’s name brings with it a wealth of negative online content that will impact the business’ bottom line.

Unfortunately, a simple Google search of the inn’s name now produces both a link to the inn’s website, as well as countless social media and news articles referencing this not-so-amusing policy.

The result is a Search Engine Optimization nightmare for the inn coupled with a runaway train of negative comments on its Facebook page (more than 200 at this writing; although it appears the inn may now be deleting posts from its Facebook page).

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn's Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

Since this firestorm hit mainstream media, the inn’s Facebook page has been inundated with negative posts.

The news coverage and social media firestorm – with only a half-hearted response from management that appears to have since been deleted  – have created a massive public relations problem to overcome. This isn’t the type of crisis you wait out. And without a strategy for responding to and recovering from this communications nightmare, The Union Street Guest House is likely to see a steep decline in business, assuming it has the wherewithal to survive at all.

Small businesses are successful because they do what they do well. Where they often fail is when they try to do something outside of their expertise.

By consulting with a social media professional or brand content specialist, small businesses can avoid errors – even tongue-in-cheek responses – that might not seem substantial at the time, but with an extra set of trained eyes, can be seen for the potential disasters they are and thus avoided. Alternatively, bringing in the professionals after a crisis has erupted is not optimal, but it can mean the difference between staying in business or going under.

Most freelancers or public relations agencies can find equitable arrangements with small businesses that won’t break the bank, and can avoid or attempt to correct business-ending mistakes.

For a free consultation on how working with a public relations agency can help protect and promote your business, please contact me at rhughes@kimballpr.com.

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Three Crisis Communications Mistakes Companies Make

morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In the shadow of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it’s painfully apparent – if it wasn’t before – that crisis scenarios are part of our collective new normal. From threats of terrorism and senseless acts of violence, to economic chaos and world events, crisis events can easy overtake the best-laid plans of any business.

At these times, there is a balance to be struck between business operations and consideration of outside events. Customers don’t want to be marketed to and reporters don’t want your new product press release in times of crisis. In addition, your own employees – even many miles removed from events – might struggle to cope with news from towns like Boston, Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, Conn., West, Texas, and others.

What do you say or do as a business owner or manager? Your response in such times must be genuine, sensitive to events and true to the culture of your organization. There is no one-size-fits-all communication solution.

However there are three things you should not do in a crisis. Don’t:

  1. Continue Your Social Media Strategy as Planned. The moment you start receiving breaking news alerts via smartphone apps, email or after watching the news, you need to assess the impact of your planned social messaging. Think about how your messages might be received against the backdrop of what is happening in the news. In most situations, you should pull your planned content immediately and take a wait-and-see approach for at least the first 30 minutes of the news event. This means deleting or rescheduling posts in HootSuite, TweetDeck and other social dashboards.
  2. Assume It’s Not a Big Deal for Your Brand. Gather your public relations and marketing teams to evaluate next steps. Create a plan for what your external messaging (including social media) needs to look like in the first hours and, in some cases, the next several days after a national or global event. Poor planning can lead to significant customer backlashes and damage your brand. You need only look at American Apparel, GAP and others whose early social media efforts during Hurricane Sandy not only failed, but angered customers by appearing insensitive to those in Sandy’s path.
  3. Ignore Your Crisis Communications Plan. If you have a Crisis Communications Plan, use it. This valuable tool will detail a methodical strategy and tactics for handling relevant crisis situations. Don’t try to wing it in the middle of a crisis. You’re more likely to miss something, and the risks can be enormous. If your plan is out of date or, worse, if it doesn’t exist, set a goal for updating or creating one and use the current scenario as a case study (for better or worse) to help guide your Crisis Communications Plan development later.

While you cannot plan for every eventuality, a good Crisis Communications Plan will best ensure your brand is protected while also being sensitive to events outside of your control.

Photo credit: morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA