The basic difference between an ordinary person and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary person takes everything as a blessing or a curse. (Carlos Castenada) To be an effective leader, you need to look at risk as a challenge, while making sure to manage it like you do any other opportunity. Torben Rick, international executive with a strong track record in developing, driving and managing business improvement and development, change management and turn-around reminds us, “There is no brand immune to a negative event … it happens, that’s life and most companies plan for this to happen by developing action plans and the like.” Such should be the case when engaging in social media marketing.

Social media marketing affords the opportunity to create a community of fans and customers alike. According to Jim Goldstein (“Social Media + You – Brand and Reputation Management = Disaster”), “Reinforcing the positive sentiment of this audience is key to creating a long lasting positive (brand) perception. In addition a passionate following will ensure that as negative sentiment arises that the community behind you supports you. A supportive community of followers expands the number of eye and ears looking and listening on your behalf. It’s not uncommon for passionate supporters to actually take on negative sentiment directly on your behalf.”

The problem is that incidents move faster in social media, so you need to create a crisis response plan, suggests Jeremiah Owyang (“When It Comes To Social Media, Many Marketers Jump The Gun”). “For instance, how would your company react if some of its products turned up in an unflattering YouTube video on a Friday evening before a three-day weekend?” He says many companies jump into social marketing before they are ready. “The opportunities to connect with customers, learn from them and benefit from word-of-mouth marketing are irresistible. But CMOs must first establish the internal resources and processes that are necessary for their companies to be successful in social marketing.”

You don’t need to look far to find examples of business who were not prepared to handle an unforeseen crisis, manage the risks, or harness the power of social media:

  • According to Owyang: Greenpeace’s organized brandjacking of Nestle SA’s Facebook page is making CMOs afraid of social media. There is good reason for this: The power has clearly turned to those that participate, and now detractors are starting to organize using the same organized marketing campaigns that companies create. Greenpeace takes issue with Nestle’s purchase of palm oil from farmers who are destroying forests. The organization prepared a frontal assault with prepared assets such as off-brand logos, detrimental videos, and called for their Twitter followers to attack Nestle’s Facebook page. Nestle, the giant food company, was unprepared. It apparently lacked qualified community managers, a community policy and an advocacy program. Proof of the power of online communities: Today the Swiss company said it will work with a nonprofit organization to probe the firm’s palm oil suppliers.
  • In his article, “Better have a social media risk management plan”, Rick points out that in terms of bad online sentiment, it doesn’t get much worse than BP’s continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He says, “a search for “BP oil spill” on YouTube returns over 900 videos about the disaster and last week BP was one of brands that was generating the most buzz on Twitter. BP seems to have a poor micro-blogging strategy and each twit is drowned by a deluge of hostile Tweets. This is partly just a question of quantity, which could be balanced if BP had a larger presence on these sites and more followers to begin with – but since it’s too late to do anything about that, the company might benefit by at least putting a more human (and humane) face on its social media communications. Let’s see the CEO make some personal twits – a symbolic gesture which might help temper the maelstrom of negative PR currently engulfing the company. Or even better – lets see the CEO apologize in a video broadcast.”

Should you be concerned about bad sentiment circulating online about you or your business? Certainly, says Goldstein, but not to the degree that it paralyzes you from doing business. Bad things will always be said about an individual or business. We can’t please everyone all of the time, but it is possible to keep bad situations (and unpredictable events) from getting ugly in the social media world…Strategically speaking turning lemons into lemonade is a critical online business strategy. You just need to plan ahead and be prepared.

Does your organization have a formal social media risk management or crisis response plan?