Thanks to social media, one person’s praise or criticism can reach hundreds, thousands or even millions of people in an afternoon. So, it’s no surprise that many brands see social media as a way to build positive relationships, nurture constructive conversations and offer real-time customer service, all of which are on display for everyone to see.

It’s also no surprise that some companies don’t want negative comments, unfavourable feedback or inconvenient content besmirching that carefully tended online reputation.

But if you think bad news can harm a brand, imagine how much more harm can come from being caught trying to keep that bad news secret.

Here are three of the biggest (and common) mistakes brands can make when trying to protect their online reputations.

Hitting delete

Sometimes, negative comments and other content may be shared to a Facebook Page or other online asset you moderate.

Hitting delete on a negative comment is definitely easier than addressing an uncomfortable or difficult complaint you’d rather wasn’t in a public forum. However, despite what some brands seem to believe, hiding or deleting negative reviews or criticisms is far more likely to highlight or enflame the issue – especially when the person who posted the original comment or content notices and cries foul.

Some criticism is unavoidable. People expect it. What matters is how you respond. Did you resolve the issue? Did you take the feedback on board to inform future improvements? Did you respect alternative viewpoints?

To delete a comment or thread is to lose control of it. Stay in control by responding with a willingness to resolve the issue or address the comment. The more professional and responsive you are the more likely others will trust that you will be equally honest and helpful with them should they ever experience a problem.

As moderation strategies go, Control is a better Alternative to Delete. (Control+Alt+Delete; geddit?!)

The Streisand Effect

Merriam-Webster defines the Streisand Effect as “a phenomenon whereby the attempt to suppress something only brings more attention or notoriety to it.”

Yes, that Streisand.

Techdirt CEO Mike Masnick coined the term in a 2005 article in reference to Barbra Streisand’s spectacular failure to suppress images of her home from appearing online.

By trying to force a niche website documenting coastal erosion to remove the photo, Streisand drew wider attention to it. Even today, the Wikipedia page for The Streisand Effect includes the notorious photo, which must now be one of the most widely shared and published images of a celebrity home ever.

Far from a rare occurrence, the Streisand Effect continues to pop up all the time. For instance…

@DevinCow (Devin Nunes’ Cow) is a parody account on Twitter targeting Republican congressman Devin Nunes, who apparently used to be a dairy farmer. Nunes isn’t a fan.

In March 2019, Nunes took out a staggering $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, @DevinCow and two other accounts he claimed had defamed him. (He has since had to drop Twitter from his lawsuit as the notorious Section 230 makes it immune from liability, but the case against the three Twitter accounts is still proceeding.)

The day before the lawsuit was made public, Devin Nunes’ Cow had 1,209 Twitter followers. The day after, that number skyrocketed to 54,000. Today, the account has more than 77,000 Twitter followers.

By going after these Twitter accounts, Nunes has not only failed to suppress the content (his case is unlikely to succeed), he also magnified the reach of that content to an exponentially wider audience.

The Streisand Effect isn’t limited to high-profile lawsuits either. Think of every time a brand deletes an inadvisable tweet, only for someone’s screenshot of the tweet (there’s always a screenshot) to get even more traction, eventually appearing in news stories and blog posts forever more. The act of deleting the tweet only increases everyone’s interest in seeing for themselves what was so bad about it.

Sometimes, it’s best to just leave well alone.

Crisis? What crisis?

When the brown stuff hits the spinny thing, why do some businesses still think the best approach is to clam up and pretend all is well?

Every company will have a bad day once in a while. The service will be interrupted, or some issue will arise that has the potential to cause customer inconvenience.

If the social media response is to downplay the seriousness of the problem or carry on as normal, the customers won’t feel adequately supported or that the company has their best interests in mind.

Equally bad is when the social media team isn’t kept in the loop about any potential issues and efforts to resolve them, making it impossible for them to advise and reassure customers honestly and in real time.

A crisis is a time for greater transparency, more frequent updates, rapid responses to customer queries and a clear focus on what they care about most. In these moments, social media needs to change hats from “happy funmeister” to “problem solver”.

Nothing annoys angry or frustrated customers more than a social media account fiddling while Rome burns.

Mea Culpa

Your brand’s reputation is determined by how others perceive it, not how you would like them to. You don’t get to decree how others should think.

Instead, every negative comment, complaint or crisis is an opportunity to give your customers plenty of good reasons to think positively of your brand.

No shortcuts, no tricks. The best response is almost always to offer understanding, reassurance and honesty. Sometimes, copping to a mistake, apologising and showing a willingness to find a solution can create far more trust than trying to sweep the whole thing under the proverbial carpet.

If you want to protect and even improve your brand’s reputation, focus on how you respond on the bad days, not how you behave when everything is fine.