For years, brands and organisations have invested as much time protecting themselves in the media as they have promoting themselves. Press offices, spin doctors and PR consultants have all worked to form a protective layer around companies when dealing with the press.

Indeed, during my time in the press offices of both London Transport (now TFL) and the Millennium Dome, we as mediasocial media marketing and consultancy for carvill creative relations professionals were often called upon to kill off the misleading or incorrect stories which inevitably arose when journalists were looking for a juicy headline or a story they could use to kick the Government.

In addition, there are times, particularly in large consumer-facing organisations, that you will make mistakes and have to face up to both the consequences and the press. As a result, we frequently prepared ‘lines to take’ with the media once we knew that there was likely to be a problem.

As the Northern Line press officer back in the 1990s, this was a common occurrence! The trains were then almost 40 years old and showing their age. There were frequent problems with overheating and we knew that the Unions were briefing the Evening Standard. So we had to be prepared once stories broke. We did this by going through all the likely scenarios, figuring out the questions the press may ask us, speaking to the line controllers and preparing well-thought out responses. These were then written down and handed out to all media relations officers – whether they were based in the office or on call.

The final element of media relations was of course monitoring what was being said in the press to ensure that the brand was not harmed. Press cuttings services, media monitoring and scanning of papers were commonplace to prevent negative stories (and indeed positive ones too) going unnoticed.

So what has this got to do with social media? Well, as it happens – a huge amount.

Exactly the same principles apply whether you have a blog, Facebook Page or Twitter account. You need to be prepared, you need to listen and you need to have a plan for dealing with negative comments or a campaign backlash.

When running social media training courses with Michelle Carvill, we work with a simple but powerful framework – PLAN, LISTEN, ANALYSE, ENGAGE – which is effectively good practice across a number of activities.

In the case of social media relations and online brand protection, this framework still very much applies. So here are my top tips to ensure that your brand is protected:


Before you set up your accounts on social media, prepare for the very worst case scenarios and work with your team to figure out how you would deal with them.

For example, if you are a restaurant and one of your diners posts on your Page that you gave them violent food poisoning, what would be your response and what would be your service recovery strategy? Speed of response is also key – as brand reputation can be attacked in minutes these days.

Similarly, how would you react to negative comments on your blog or if someone hounds you on Twitter? (Both of which happen on an ever-increasing basis these days).

It’s key to be thinking about the ‘what if’ scenarios to ensure that you are prepared for anything on the social media platforms.


It is imperative that you listen to the conversations taking place online about your brand. Do you have any idea about what people may be saying about you? Frequently check your blog for comments and have push notifications to ensure you get messaged once someone posts on your wall or mentions you on Twitter. In an age of mobile communications, this means that you may have to be listening 24/7.

At the same time, set up simple Google Alerts ( to see what’s being said on the web or via Social Mention ( – similar to Google Alerts but for social media activity.

It is also a good idea to set up a stream within Twitter or on a social media dashboard such as, Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, where you can set your brand name as a keyword and track all activity against it.

On a trip to the States last year, I had a bad experience with the airline Delta. After complaining about them on Twitter via their @delta handle, a few minutes later their customer service channel @deltassist responded to me. In other words, they were doing the listening part well, even if they couldn’t transport me properly by air to my destination!


With all these real time feedback mechanisms, you will be able to see what your customers/fans are saying about your brand.

If it is positive, use this to grow customer loyalty or for testimonials. If it is negative, just as with traditional media relations, you need to think about what your response will be. This could include:

  • preparing lines to take,
  • setting up inter-departmental meetings to discuss where things are going wrong in your organisation
  • and deciding on whether you are going to come out in a bullish or defensive way.

A great example of this is the recent decision by Instagram to start selling people’s photos. After an enormous backlash on social media, they decided to change their terms and conditions and made a robust public apology –


With the planning and researching phases in place, you will now be in a position to engage. Your response may have to be extremely swift, hence why the preparation stage is so important.

Unlike traditional media relations, the conversations on social media channels are all on the record and can be seen by many people. So, depending on the circumstances, you may need to move the complainant to a more private channel – (Direct Messaging on Twitter, directing them to a ‘Chat’ facility on your website, private messages on Facebook, email or even a phone call).

The majority of the time, you must been seen to react. Saying nothing or even worse, blocking the complainant, or deleting their comments will only inflame the situation.

Following the Townsend Toreson ferry disaster of 1987 when 49 people died, the parent company P&O’s managing director was criticised for not facing the cameras. Politicians are also very adept on not facing the press, until too late.

Contrast this with the swift response by the emergency services and politicians following the 7/7 bombings in London.

There will even be times when a swift and a carefully thought-out response can turn a negative into a positive. For example, using the Delta airlines case study again, I was impressed that they were listening to my complaints. Following this, a direct message conversation took place in which they went a long way to restoring my faith in their brand. At the very least, people like to think they are being listened to!