From camp fire to forest fire... social media has put many businesses and brands under never-before-seen levels of scrutiny from all areas of cyberspace, according to Jan Quant, CEO for lean marketing firm Screendragon, who explains how and why brands should monitor these virtual communities and be immediately aware of any adverse comments. This article is copyright 2013 The Best Customer Guide.

In the social arena the game has changed, reputations that took years to build and sustain can be destroyed in seconds. As one of our clients recently reported, it can take as little as 22 minutes for an issue to go globally viral on social media. Burger King had to temporarily suspended its Twitter account, back when hackers gained access and Tweeted that the fast food giant had been sold to rivals McDonalds.

It seems putting the means of broadcasting negative brand messages into the hands of consumers, in the form of 'always-on' Social Media access, which has changed the risk profile that many brands face.

One outcome of all the 'Twitterstorms', Facebook rants and off-colour blog posts targeting brands, has seen a boom in the sales of Social Media monitoring tools. However, detecting a problem and solving it are two different things.

This makes an early warning much the same as no warning. The issue then, is not how to detect attacks on your brand, rather what you do to proactively mitigate the threat in the first place. How do you resolve issues once they emerge while keeping your brand reputation as intact as possible? As a company trusted by some of the world's largest brands to help safeguard their reputation, we often share a few valuable lessons learnt the hard way.

Here are three practical ways to prevent rapid brand destruction at the hands of the 'Twitterati':

  1. Looking at the bigger picture
    The combination of mobile and social has created unprecedented levels of brand interactions. However the very same media also gives free access to countless ways to quickly destroy brand equity. Not having a plan for the inevitable attack is inexcusable. When the worst happens, there is no time to consider who needs to be involved.

    Your employees need to act as brand ambassadors, living the brand values even in a crisis and working against a clear employees value policy. Easy access to a wide range of documents, held in a claims management system ranging from replacement brand assets, to press statements, recall notices and Legal Notices, can make the difference.

  2. Managing your workflows
    Teams that work on brand crises are not typically workmates on a daily basis. This means the workflows that are created need to be configurable. Access to the central knowledge repository needs to be on a need-to-know basis yet it also has to work across departments, remaining highly secure yet globally accessible.

    Smart pre-planned workflows need to be ready to kick in, routing the right information from Out-of-Hours phone numbers to media policies and to the right people who can implement them fast. It is also a smart idea to create an audit trail of who is doing what and when. As you might guess, this is no job for a mere spreadsheet.

  3. Back to basics
    Once a crisis occurs, consistency is tested. Adherence to values is exactly what customers want from their favourite brands. This is not a time for deep creative thinking; this is the time for measured 'on brand' responses. A global brand requires a great deal of management to ensure consistency. Reputation likewise requires diligence to ensure a brand survives an attack or mistake gone viral. The way a response is delivered should be just as well-orchestrated as other brand experiences and all outgoing communications need to be in line with brand guidelines.

    Focusing on the aftermath, and not just the build-up to a brand reputation challenge, is a worthwhile investment. Getting it wrong can literally be the death of a brand. Those who want to attack brands only need to get lucky once, so brand guardians need to be alert and ready to act at all times.

Given the reassurance many brand managers take from their customer's loyalty, it now seems unwise not to develop techniques and use state-of-the-art technology, which can protect brands when they are under attack.