The viral nature of the internet can be a wonderful thing.  Messages about your company can spread far and wide, resulting in new consultants and higher sales.  But that viral effect can be a double-edged sword.  Because if someone has a bad experience with your company, or one of its consultants, that can have a devastating effect on your company’s reputation, and its ability to recruit.

We saw this very thing happen to United Airlines when they broke a musician’s $3,500 Taylor guitar, and then refused to pay for it.  Google “United Breaks Guitars” and you’ll see a remarkable string of posts that have preserved this rocky patch in United’s history forever.  If United had had a strategy in place to deal with such situations before they became viral sensations, they would have been much better off (and you can bet they do now!)

This past year we saw a member of our own industry, Arbonne International, manage this quite well.  When the company went through a debt restructuring, it could have been very easy for negative information to fly, causing many of its distributors to flock to other companies.  But the company took a pro-active approach, creating a company blog as part of a larger communication strategy that kept distributors informed, and helped the company weather the storm.  Now this is but a far-distant memory that the company has been able to put behind them.

Does your direct sales company have a plan for when disaster strikes?  We all know that the information that the salesforce sees and consumes is essential when it comes to managing crisis.  What should you have in place ahead of time to be prepared?  Here are some tips:

  • Create an escalation procedures document. Make a list of “worst that could happen” scenarios, and who is authorized to make a public statement.  This will save you hours of meetings trying to decide who should take care of the situation, while it spirals out of control, and makes it very easy for the person who spots the issue to quickly route it to the correct person, no matter what the hour.
  • Create a “24 hour statement” for each issue you identify. This is a standard response that can be made in response to each of the scenarios you identified, so the company looks responsive while you’re crafting a more specific company response.
  • Have “community ambassadors” within your corporate structure. These are folks who work with influencers in the online communities most important to you.  When a crisis arises, chances are these influencers will reach out to the person they know and trust in your organization, for your side of the story.  This means these influencers are a lot more likely to provide a balanced view of the situation.
  • Create a culture that admits when you’re wrong. Transparency and authenticity are DEMANDED in social media communities, particularly when things go wrong.  Be sure the employees in your organization are able to admit it when you’re wrong, and empowered to fix it.
  • Have a place for your official corporate response. This is typically a corporate blog.  If the issue is big enough and mainstream media picks it up, they’ll have a place they can go that provides the official corporate response.

By planning before crisis hits, you can more effectively manage online crises before they go viral.  And if you handle them well, you might even get some positive feedback from the online community.  It all starts with a plan!

image credit: Jim Linwood

Jennifer Fong

Jennifer Fong helps direct sales companies leverage the power of social media marketing to increase sales and recruiting, and manage online brand perception.  She provides strategic planning consulting to companies, as well as conference speaking and training. To learn more about how Jennifer can help your company, visit http://luceandassociates.com/Jennifer-Fong.html.  You can also check out her direct sales and social media blog at http://www.jenfongspeaks.com, and her Facebook Page at http://facebook.com/jenfongspeaks.

image credit: jurvetson