Thoughts on Preventing Problems in Social Media


The buzz today is about Burger King having their Twitter account hacked by a McDonald’s enthusiast. Getting hacked isn’t the same as having someone on social media start to trash your brand, or someone new tweeting something personal on the professional account, or an upset customer / client / patron making waves, or someone (especially a manager) simply misinterpreting something that was said online, but they all add up to “Trouble with a capital T.”

The Music Man “Ya Got Trouble”

For many years now, my favorite one-stop tool for managing social media trouble has been the Air Force Blog Assessment flow chart posted by Jeremiah Owyang.

Air Force Blog Assessment

Like most of what I’ve seen posted on the topic of social media crisis, this frames the issue as one of responding to the public, not one of proactive prevention. In the conversation on this topic in the Health Care Social Media (#HCSM) community in which I am active, conversations have tended to emphasize the same focus. In HCSM, since we are working so very hard to try to persuade other professionals to join us in social media, problems are usually interpreted as an opportunity for education and outreach, with people in the community often looking for how to use these events to both learn and teach. Often we find ourselves in the position of defending those who have been attacked for some minor social media infraction as part of educating both their managers and our own.

Proactive prevention is often seen more as corporate censorship than as delicate guidance, and if seen in that way can run the risk of stifling social media adoption and implementation to the detriment of the enterprise. We encounter this in both HCSM and science communication (#SciComm), with huge debates over how and when to silence those who promote “Woo” or quackery, with others stressing the importance of permitting a free and open conversation, avoiding censorship, and fostering trust through a strong and transparent dialog, taking advantage of false claims or misinterpreted claims to help guide more understanding of what is evidence, and how to identify quality evidence for decisionmaking. In other words, this can be a very tricky balance. I’ll add some more links in the resources section at the end of this post on these areas, but I do want to draw attention to Susan Etlinger’s post which describes micromanaging social media ONLY as a response to complete failure of education & preventive methods, and this report (also by Jeremiah Owyang) that focuses on preparation and prevention through leadership and modeling appropriate ways to engage, rather than through retroactive punitive actions or imposed censorship.

Last time the University of Michigan was working on social media guidelines, we discovered after the fact that two entirely separate groups were working on the same project at the same time, from different points of view. Obviously, there was a real need for it! We ended up with one team endorsing the work of the other team, and all were pretty impressed and content with what we had at that time.

UM: Voices of the Staff: Social Media Guidelines
Guidelines for the Use of Social Media (pdf)

That was 2010. About a year later, the Health System came out with an excellent and more detailed set of their own guidelines and training materials.

Social Media Policy & Toolkit:

Now it is 2013. That’s a pretty long time in social media years, as some of my colleagues have observed. Now, we (meaning various communities across campus) are talking again about revising or extending or updating (or all three) those earlier guidelines to address or account for various situations we’ve observed or experienced over the past few years. One important part of the process is increased efforts to bridge the various teams looking into social media guidelines, challenges, problems, and how to prevent them. This is important for a few reasons:
1) because the community of practice will have a richer collection of shared experiences to inform guidelines development than any single group or committee;
2) because the same community will have a broader range of practices and spaces in which they work, will have seen how solutions that work in one situation fail in another;
3) because engaging the community of practice in guideline development helps to ensure awareness, understanding, and support of the forthcoming guidelines.

As you can guess, even though I am part of one or two small teams having conversations about the proposed new guidelines, I am over the moon delighted to be able to talk with people on the other committees and have these broader conversations! As part of one of these conversations, I tossed out some thoughts by email earlier today, which I want to share here as another tool for broadening the conversation. This broader conversation also helps to support my efforts as a member of the External Advisory Board for the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media (MCCSM), who are also developing a curriculum to address many of the same skill areas and competencies. So, let me toss these out, and hope for some reactions and comments.

1. There is a need for appropriate contacts and rapid consultation for emerging events related to social media activity around the enterprise presence.

2. There is a need for appropriate pre-planned advice or guidance for these types of events to be made available and widely disseminated.

3. Guidance should not focus solely on negative outcomes (ie. “bashtags”) but should include what to do when something positive is happening unexpectedly.

4. Guidance should include not just appropriate actions at the moment, but also for followup, both short-term and long-term.

5. Guidance should also include how to NOT create a problem where none exists — when prevention is needed, and when it is best to simply allow matters to run their course.

6. Is is absolutely essential that both the contacts and the guidance be quickly and easily discoverable both by official institutional communicators and by the general public, including staff (and students, in the case of higher education).

7. There is a need for a detailed curriculum for new staff assigned to work with social media. Awareness of this needs to be disseminated to deans, directors, department chairs, and project managers.

8. There is a particular need for the curriculum to include training for the many student workers or recent graduates who are now working with campus social media accounts.

9. There is a need for the curriculum to include training for those staff who manage the student workers in social media. These might include appropriate expectations, case studies with examples of right and wrong, training and supporting the staff, appropriate oversight, developing a voice, nurturing and encouraging the inexperienced enterprise communicator of social media, tools to develop the instincts for quick and appropriate response.

10. There is a need for clarification of the skills, training, and appropriate uses of social media in the context of personal accounts as contrasted with “block-M” official enterprise accounts.

11. Suggested guidelines would be helpful for how to select a hashtag in advance of an event (start with UM, keep it short, consider a standard department hashtag in lieu of specific event hashtags, etc.). Campus sponsored events should generally consider choosing a hashtag at the same time they create their posters and other marketing for the event.

12. All guidelines should be sufficiently liberal and encouraging as to not create barriers to campus adoption and implementation of social media, especially in the case of faculty.

Let me shorten this yet further.

1. Access
2. Guidelines
3. Ouch
4. Hurray
5. Calm
6. Findable
7. Training
8. Students
9. Managers
10. Enterprise
11. Hashtags
12. Open

Give me a couple more days and I’ll probably think of some way to work this into a memorable acronym of some sort.

I know, this is easier said than done, but we have to start somewhere, right? What else is most needed? Please share your thoughts and recommendations.


Agnes, Melissa. 10 Biggest Social Media Crisis-Related Lessons of 2012:

Air Force Blog Assessment:

Beatty, Luke. No Commenting Allowed.

Cabellon, Ed. Student Affairs Live Featuring David Felper and Colleen Towle.

Couts, Andrew. Dear Twitter, Corporate Censorship is Still Censorship [Updated].

Edwards-Onoro, Deborah. Recap: Legal Implications of Social Media Use on Campus.

Etlinger, Susan. Social Media Crisis Prevention: Can You Defuse an F-Bomb?.

Facebook Social Media Crisis Response Guidelines (PDF):

Lester, Aaron. Social HR challenges best addressed through clear policies, plans.

Minton, Joshua. The New Censorship: Social Media & the Corporate Employee.

Owyang, Jeremiah. Social Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare Internally.

Owyang, Jeremiah. Research Report: Be Prepared by Climbing the Social Business Hierarchy of Needs.

Poston, Leslie. Shining Examples of Excellent Social Media Crisis Management.

Social Media Crisis Prevention Tips From Sysomos.

Walls, Andrew. Exploring the limits of social media transparency, privacy and free speech.

Wombles, Kim. Claims Require Evidence, Not Hyperbole.


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