Social media generates a more personal relationship with consumers by creating an open discussion between company and consumer.  However, this personalized, transparent relationship also has the potential to cause a nightmare for a company.  Facebook pages are especially susceptible because users can share whatever they like without censorship and many critics of the company use them as a forum on which to voice their grievances.  While some companies handle criticisms by addressing them openly to remedy complaints, others make the situation worse by either ignoring and letting the comments escalate or worse, by deleting negative postings as if they never happened.

Dole and Chiquita faced this dilemma recently when supporters and members of ForestEthics, a nonprofit activist organization, wrote on both companies’ Facebook walls condemning the harmful effects of tar sands fuel use on the environment.  Instead of addressing these concerns, Dole and Chiquita decided to delete all the negative comments as if they never happened.

Unfortunately for Dole and Chiquita, these critics had anticipated that their comments would be deleted and had taken screenshots of the deleted comments at the time of their posting. When Dole and Chiquita were confronted on the matter, the companies denied it and were then shown the proof.  Maintaining a specific social media policy could have prevented his mishap entirely. Social media has the ability to make or break a brand and it is important to see that with such transparency crises could arise.

While a social media strategist may know just what it takes to grow a fanpage or foster engagement, it is also important to practice basic communications and public relations principles at all times. Social media is merely a tool in toolbox; it’s not a means to an end. Training a team in crisis communications for social networks is essential.

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