Picture this: A zip line guest nearly reaches the landing platform, but rolls back to a location about 30 feet out. He freaks and starts yelling. Cell phones come out, video starts rolling.
It takes your team about four minutes to reel him back in. But once safely on the ground, the guest starts fulminating while phones capture every moment. Next thing you know, the vids have been shared to your Facebook page—and plenty of other places.
To you, the response time and successful recovery without injury are no big deal. But to newcomers, this can be unnerving. And social media harpies aren’t shy about sharing emphatic, if uninformed, opinions. Four MINUTES? That’s way too long! In fact, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place—and it wouldn’t have, if your zip line had been properly designed. So sayeth a disgruntled former employee who just happens to be enjoying the show. Plenty of likes to that comment, and more shares.
Congratulations. You’ve gone viral.
Misery Loves Company
There was a time not long ago when social media was presumed to offer an egalitarian communications platform where everyone would have a voice and play nice. But some of us were skeptical. We’d seen plenty of fractious nonsense and bad behavior on listservs, Usenet groups, and the immediate precedent of social media—forums and bulletin boards.
Not much fallout occurred, because most of those social media forerunners were fairly small, tightly focused, and had mechanisms to limit entry or control content. In contrast, one of the most revolutionary aspects of social media is its ability to spread things far beyond an initial interest group.
It gets worse. Conventional media relies heavily on social media to source images and videos. Cell phones turn everybody into a reporter—most of them untrained. Nobody rolls video in hopes that something dramatic might happen, they roll when it’s already happening. As a result, this type of video rarely includes anything that can offer context.
Or, perhaps the videos were edited to start at the most theatrical stuff. That generates clicks, and clicks = money.
So what to do about social media flareups? Let’s start with this: The worst possible time to start dabbling in social media is when people are already using it to rip you apart. It takes time to build up a social media audience. Even if you personally detest it, it’s just about essential for a business (and particularly one that attracts young adrenaline junkies).
So create your social media space before anything happens. Which platform or platforms to use are up to you, but the sites most likely to discuss your business right now are probably Facebook, Twitter, TripAdvisor, and Instagram.
It’s not enough to set up a channel, though. You need to tend it, by posting cool images and videos, information about promotions, deals, and special events. With TripAdvisor, you should respond to comments, both good and bad. Above all, you need to actively engage with your clientele—by both asking and responding to questions. You need to thank followers for participating. They need to know you’re paying attention.
You also need to monitor activity multiple times a day—particularly if something weird has happened. If it does, assign someone you trust to watch your social streams and do searches on your name pretty much continuously until things calm down. You may choose not to empower the person to respond (in fact, you shouldn’t, unless they’ve been trained to do so), but he or she should at least let you know if something alarming pops up.
Response to complaints and concerns should happen as quickly as possible. Let people know you take their opinions seriously. In the early stages of a serious event, you probably won’t know very much about what caused the event to happen, and it’s essential to say that. Major events involving challenge course and adventure park elements can take weeks, even months, to analyze.
Do It Right
Make sure you’ve got access to good PR counsel and have staff members trained to deal with both conventional and social media poopstorms. There’s something of an art to it. One element of that art is to speak in the language of the platform; people can tell if you post a statement that was written by your lawyer, and will assume you’ve lawyered up to cover your butt. But you absolutely should run sensitive social media posts past your lawyer. Just don’t let him or her re-write your post. Instead, ask for recommendations on how to edit it.
It’s a good idea to cross-post all press releases and statements through your social channels, for two reasons. First, news outlets are very selective as to which components of your releases will actually be reflected in the final story. Second, by using social streams, you can get complete information directly to the people who are following you (and are likely to be your biggest fans).
A special caution with Twitter: The brevity inherent in the Twitter format makes it a dreadful place to tell your story. Best to be very direct, and provide a link to a channel you do control, like this:
@adrenalineadventure Jul 30
Latest on the Adrenaline zip line incident https://www.adrenalineadventure.com/media #adrenalineadventures #ziplineaccident
Include hashtags, which can make following the story easier. Limit Twitter messages related to the incident to nuts and bolts, because Twitter invites snark and character assassination.
Keep Your Cool
If a negative event goes viral, monitor the streams constantly. Remember, people new to a given thread won’t read through tons of previous messages. They jump in and start swinging, so you may need to re-post the same message as often as every 10 or 15 minutes.
It may be tempting to disable follower response. And if you’re still dealing with an emergency, it may be appropriate to do so. But after the dust has settled, re-open the page to comment. It may also be tempting to block certain followers, but it’s generally best to keep things as open and transparent as possible. Remember, your social followers are the ones who signed up to hear about you.
Avoid the temptation to engage in discussion with people on pages you don’t control, such as other social media pages, or even the comments sections many news outlets provide. Engaging on these sites can be hugely time consuming and isn’t likely to win you any fans. If you see misinformation circulating on non-controlled social channels, about the most you should do is to post—under your actual identity—something along the lines of, “There’s a lot of speculation and misinformation in this thread. For official information, please go to facebook.com/adrenaline- adventures.”
Social media can be a good marketing tool and valuable in a crisis. But it can also be a problem. To use it effectively, set up a comprehensive strategy for use in all situations—with staff training to support it. The approach for a negative story is far different from a happy conversation with your biggest fans.