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When Fans Attack: How To Defend A Brand’s Reputation Online

A social media presence can morph from PR asset to liability in the time it takes to say “brandjacking.” The recent takeover of Nestle’s Facebook page by Greenpeace activists has many brand marketers dusting off their crisis programs.  But the world has changed. How do you defend your brand if, despite good business and communications practices, you become a target? What can you do if your brand is attacked on its own turf, or in a public online forum?

First, anticipate. If your crisis plan was last updated in 1993, or even two years ago, it’s not relevant. Have an online listening post, focus on the most likely criticisms and complaint scenarios, and make sure your messages are current.

Ramp up customer service. Would you put an intern on the phone to handle a client complaint? Don’t do it online either. Make sure your communications team is trained in customer relations, and vice versa. Not every company is ready to jump into Social CRM, but the line between communications and customer service is getting blurrier every day.

Stay calm. When the heat is on, sarcasm and anger are not your friend. Don’t be funny or flippant either. Use of humor is a classic apology PR tactic for an individual under fire, but a corporation should take legitimate customer criticism very, very seriously.

Be transparent. In most attack situations, it’s not worth closing off comments or trying to astroturf your way out of trouble. It rarely works and is often exposed.

Be timely. Nothing pours kerosene on a customer complaint fire like silence. A timely answer, even if not the desired response, is better than the void.

Take it offline. When complaints cascade anonymously, it’s often impossible to deal with them offline. But, on Facebook and other sites where comments are transparent, offline resolutions may be possible, and the complaint chain may be interrupted.

Apologize. If the situation warrants. Though the public apology is being rapidly commoditized, a sincere, factual, and personalized apology beats silence, defensiveness, or apathy.

Use the media. Be ready to produce a response commensurate with the attack – through online commentary, video, and social media news releases.

Look for – and leverage – the opportunity. A negative situation doesn’t always spell lasting damage. In fact, it can be an opportunity to tout positive change, clear up a misimpression, and build customer engagement. No one is more loyal than a grateful customer. If the problem can’t be fixed, a fair hearing can still go a long way.

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