Last week, the Content and Social Media team had the pleasure of going to Social Media Marketing World here in San Diego. Of the many sessions I attended, one of my favorites was “Crisis, Trolls, and Blunders: How to Prepare for the Inevitable,” which was led by the entertaining Douglas Karr of DK New Media. Basically, says Karr, if you’re a modern company, you’re going to hit a social media hurdle at some point … but whether or not it turns out to be a true crisis is up to you.

What is a Crisis, Really?

Karr opened with a review of Mashable’s “Biggest Social Media Disasters of 2012,” which included gems from the NRA, McDonald’s, and KitchenAid. Were these posts poorly planned or just plain unfortunate (and some slightly hilarious)? Sure. Were they actually disasters that destroyed and devastated the brands involved? Not in the slightest, he says. The thing about social media blunders, asserts Karr, is that today’s rampant sensationalizing blows most missteps way out of proportion. Even with networks abuzz, the vast majority of “oops” moments will disappear in a few days at the most. At that point, Karr believes that people will either side with the brand, lose interest, or find something else to pick on.

Despite the fact that most social media “disasters” aren’t disasters at all, sometimes crises do happen. So, how do you know when a sticky brand situation is an actual crisis? From Karr’s point of view, a crisis:

  • Impacts your or your client’s prospects and/or reputation
  • Has momentum and is growing
  • Has no immediate remedy

To recover from a crisis, Karr says brands and agencies need to have an established, strategic defense strategy that is overseen and managed by one key person, whether a C-level executive or a service-savvy community manager. With too many team members involved, your strategy becomes diluted and difficult to deploy efficiently, effectively and most importantly, quickly.

Trolls Gon’ Troll

With a digital world come trolls – they’re hiding under Web bridges everywhere. To tackle these surly beasts, Karr suggests using the following strategy:

  • Stay on your turf: If a troll is doing their thing on your website, blog, or social channels, you can respond according to your brand strategy. However, if you simply hear about their comments through the grapevine and they’re happening on another site, act like they’re not even there. “Don’t feed the trolls,” implores Karr. Giving them a brand statement outside of your territory – even if it’s a good one – simply provides more ammunition to twist and turn against you. Trolls are kind of like that annoying kid in the fourth grade who never failed to cause a ruckus in class – if you ignore them, they’ll probably get bored and stop (at least with your brand).
  • Recruit fans: Your fan base is your best weapon against trolls – they’ll stick up for you when you need them. This isn’t to say you should take to Twitter and whine, “Hey, guys – this weirdo is picking on me. Help!” However, if you diplomatically and professionally address a larger trolling issue on your blog (if it’s happening on turf!), your fans should naturally spring to action.
  • Defend yourself: This really brings rule 1 and 2 full circle. Create a well-crafted, ultra-professional blog post and spread it on your social channels. Don’t name names – stay cool and collected and you’ll kick that troll to the curb in no time.

The 6 A’s of Blunder Management

Karr also looped in Jason Falls’ approach to managing social media issues big and small. Ready for some alliteration?

  • Acknowledge
  • Apologize
  • Assert
  • Assess
  • Act
  • Abdicate

You can read more about Jason’s strategy on SlideShare.

It’s Going to be OK

Although you should always do your best to avoid them, social media hiccups can happen to the best of brands. With a solid team and strategy in place, handling any issue – even a real, legitimate crisis – can be done. For more of Douglas Karr’s insights and advice on crisis management, check out his Social Media Marketing World deck.