Begin today to mitigate the social media storm of tomorrow

Recently, American fashion designer Kenneth Cole sent out a tweet to promote his new spring collection with a very distasteful joke about the political situation in Egypt. Of course, as these things go, tout social media fell over it and jumped on the occasion to bash another brand. He’s not the first, and will definitely not be the last. It is a known risk of having an extensive social media presence, that when you slip, you can generate a lot of bad publicity.

Now, in the old days, a well known fact in marketing was that there is no such thing as bad publicity. And to be honest, before this tweet by Mr Cole and the storm it created on blogs and Twitter, I had not heard from him (I’m a Paul Smith fan myself, so it’s not that I’m completely unaware of fashion designers), so in a sense, the publicity gave him at least that increase in brand awareness. However, in a world where people have a growing ease of access to recommendations from trusted sources, a bad reputation on social media, or a tsunami of negative attention like Mr Cole experienced recently, can certainly hurt your business. And with the number of people that are perceived to spaek for your brand growing thanks to social media (because everybody can see on LinkedIn where they work), you have to pay attention. A familiar response is to limit access to social networking sites in the workplace, to limit the risk of employees posting company information on their Facebook or Twitter accounts from their work computer. But that is simply a silly measure. Better is to acknowledge the fact that a growing number of people share information through blogs, Facebook walls, Twitter streams and on Draugiem. Your best approach is to teach them how to behave, educate them on the risks, and come up with a code of conduct.

By doing so, you can turn your employees into brand advocates, and limit the risk of slip-ups that will bring out the worst in the social media world. Also, by being open, and establishing a rapport with your (potential) customers, you have a good chance of being let off the hook when something unfortunate happens on one of your social media outlets.

This post was published earlier in the February newsletter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia.

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