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Avoid Social Media Weapons of Mass Destruction

Protect your reputation from acts of 'social media terrorism.'

They're infiltrating our society from the ground up. They're your friends, your neighbors, your employees. They could even be your parents. Regardless of what you call them in your "real" life, in the world of social media these people can hold a more dubious title; terrorist.

Not the kind armed with traditional WMD; these social media terrorists, armed with only a keyboard, a camcorder, or a cell phone, are causing untold reputational destruction, damaging the credibility of businesses and individuals.

Think I'm exaggerating? In April, an employee-produced video prank that wound up on YouTube dealt a damaging blow to Domino's Pizza. In less than 24 hours the video topped one million views, generating widespread discussion on Twitter and Facebook, and more traditional media outlet coverage, such as The New York Times and CNBC, for weeks.

According to BrandIndex, the video, meant to be a joke, had a drastically negative effect on consumer's perception of the Domino's brand.

Last year, moms on Twitter flexed their collective social media muscle against big pharmacy, voicing their unhappiness with Motrin's attempt at viral advertisement. The moms viewed the campaign as gender-biased and offensive. The uprising of discontent came to a head when Motrin was forced to deliver an apology to bloggers and to the general public. Needless to say, those ads were also removed from all media outlets.

The decision makers at Motrin failed to act swiftly; waiting almost a full week before communicating their intentions to remove the ad and ultimately issuing an apology. As a result, Motrin failed.

These unfortunate examples make it painfully clear that even one public relations miss-step can result in mass reputational destruction.

Simply responding to an online attack isn't enough. You should always take time to craft a response that's properly aligned with your brand's message and values, while also being mindful that time is always of the essence. A speedy, professional and courteous response will prevent a single incident from spiraling out of control and it could even turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one.

Like it or not, today we all live in a brave new world beset by endless commentary in the form of tweets, blogs, mobile uploads, tags and videos. Nothing is "off the record." Just because you aren't on Facebook doesn't mean that compromising video of you at a friend's cocktail party can't abruptly end your career.

You need to learn to live along social media, and adapt accordingly, if you don't want to fall victim to its terrorist side.

Here are some tips to help stave off and manage social media attacks:

  1. Be careful what you say and what you post.
  2. Be vigilant about who's recording you and what's being said about you and your company online.
  3. Be prepared with an emergency action plan so you can react quickly to legitimate threats.
  4. Minimize any fallout by quickly going on the offensive. Respond genuinely on the same social media channel.
  5. Build a bank of goodwill among people who influence your brand; the fans, bloggers, online media, customers and commentators. The best defense is a solid offense, right?
  6. Never masquerade online (pose as someone else) or pay a third party to blog on your behalf.
  7. Train yourself and your employees on the above steps.

And most important of all, just follow Microsoft's social media policy; preach and practice good judgment at all times.

Named one of the top "40 Under 40" by industry touchstone PR Week, Aaron Kwittken is the founder and CEO of boutique public relations agency Kwittken & Company. In just four years, he has rapidly grown the company into a competitive industry player, boasting a roster of iconic brands and a staff of multi-specialists.

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