Friday, July 24, 2015

Rock the Boat [Mitigating Risk in Social Media]



One of the scariest parts of social media is the backlash. People have made a living [think Food Babe] by using social media as a platform for or against theories, ingredients, processes and companies. 

Let’s face it, no company is perfect. Not Google, not Ford, not Campbell’s. Each company has their controversial topics, their less than pristine moments. But the best social media strategists out there are brutally honest with themselves - and plan to mitigate the risks of their companies. 

This week, Campbell’s Soup launched www.whatsinmyfood.com to do just that. This website, although not technically “social media” starts the conversation. It gives Campbell’s a platform to direct their social media efforts towards. And they openly discuss controversial topics. Campbell’s explains the what and why behind food ingredients like GMOs, artificial flavors and colors, and BPA in packaging. 

They are unapologetic for their products [honestly, apologizing for who you are just opens you to more attacks], but do explain that they are listening to consumers and working to make changes to their products to meet consumer demands. 

This is a brilliant case of pro-actively mitigating risk online. Why? 
  1. Campbell’s know what their weaknesses are and understand these will come under attack at some point. Instead of trying to sweep the issues under the rug until they are forced to deal with them, Campbell’s is strategizing for the long-term. Company viability is all about long-term planning, right? 
  2. They are mitigating the risk by taking control of the conversation instead of reacting to it. This is key in the digital world where everyone has a voice. Being reactionary in any conversation opens you up to spiral out of control. Taking control of a difficult conversation gives you exactly that: control of the conversation. Wartime strategies always want control. 
  3. Campbell’s is using those controversial moments as educational moments. One of the best things any company can do online is to turn “uh oh” moments into educational moments for all customers. Know that your orders always backlog in January due to union shut downs over the holidays? Start explaining why it’s so great that union employees get an extended holiday with their families. Better even is to redirect your audience to a blog post that explains the manufacturing process and how even a day of downtime can amply into late orders. It creates transparency and gives you a platform to explain why you do what you do. Simple fact: people complain less when they understand why. 
  4. The website creates a controlled environment for discussion and directs “Chicken Littles” out of the spotlight. As social media and digital marketing become mainstream communication, the haters of the world have found a way to voice their opinions loudly and publicly. It is one of the hardest things companies have to manage. A complaint that offers an educational moment for all? Great. See #3. A screaming customer that will never be happy, no matter the customer service? This platform allows this conversations to shift to non-public platforms [direct messages, emails, phone calls, private chat]. It provides a customer service venue without worries of the mob-mentality. 

It’s incredibly ulcer-inducing for a social media [or digital media] strategist to launch specific risk-mitigating campaigns. There is always a chance it goes horribly, horribly wrong. There are always evangelists waiting in the wings to try to take a company down. And there is often the chance a C-Suite, who doesn’t understand social media strategy, sees an evangelist blowing up and does the reactionary thing [rather than trusting the social media strategist to deal with it calmly for the least fallout]. 

The “what-ifs” often paralyze companies from tackling these risk-mitigating campaigns. But not planning and standing up to the challenges often has much much larger fallouts. 

I applaud Campbell’s for pro-actively opening the conversations, no matter how many bottles of Tums the digital team ate before the launch!

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Download Lindsey's new ebook, The Vitality of Social Media in B2B Operations.