Companies' social presences, whether on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or elsewhere, are quickly becoming primary targets for activist organizations.
Of course, the days of the old "hey-hey ho-ho" chants, signed petitions, and pickets are not over, but there is a definite rise in activist activity on the Internet, and organizations need to be prepared to address these instances when they occur.
Here's how you should respond to an activist attack on your company's social media presence.
1. Create a response plan.
Every organization will have a bad day in social media. Irrespective of how well your leaders run your organization or how much people love your brand, there will be a time when you do something that upsets people.
The first step of any social media activism response is to create a plan in advance. Prepare for all potential issues ahead of time and create responses suitable for a variety of social platforms. Create a comment traffic system and escalation procedures across all social media channels so you can quickly send negative comments to the PR and corporate affairs team. These teams can then send the comments to others, if necessary.
2. Engage with the source.
Identify the sources convincing people to go to your social profiles and engage with them directly. This will be more effective than engaging with every individual who comments on your page. This engagement shows your willingness to address activists' concerns.
Change.org is an example of a site dedicated to building a movement against brands and organizations online. Change.org has representatives all over the world, and in the past has been open to correcting misinformation posted on its site. It also quickly communicates with its members once an organization makes a change.
3. Don't stick your head in the sand.
Be transparent with your community on the channels the protestors use to attack you. If activists showed up outside one of your storefronts, you would take their concerns seriously. In most cases your social media presence is much more visible than any storefront or office block. Take protestors' comments seriously and make commitments to investigate their concerns or provide more information.
4. Be timely.
An hour is a long time in the social media world. Respond to your community as quickly as possible. Silence will suggest you are trying to spin the situation. Use holding statements if an instant answer is not possible. Confirm you are investigating further and let the community know when it can expect an update.
5. Listen and respond.
There is no magic number of negative comments that denotes when a company should change its policy, but you should take any considerable number of negative comments seriously. Comments on Facebook and other social presences are like a barometer on your customers' feelings toward your brand and products. Only a fool doesn't listen to his customers.
Do you have any other tips?
Matthew Gain is director of consumer brand and digital marketing at Edelman. A version of this article originally appeared on the Edelman Digital blog.