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With Halloween on the way, treats are something to look forward to, but the real challenge for brands is effectively dealing with the tricks.
Social media pranks  -- small, thoughtless ones as well as those perpetrated by dedicated online trolls -- can spur a real crisis for any brand, so it’s important to be prepared just in case this occurs at any time of year.

These can include:

  • The Virtual Egging: Misinformation campaigns -- “Acme Corporation staff strip search their employees- pass it on!”
  • The Ding Dong Ditch: Attacks on a brand on its social platform -- spam posts, NSFW pic spams, false accounts of poor customer service or faulty products.
  • The Smell My Feet: Attempts to force a brand to respond to ridiculous queries for the “humor value.”

 

Any major brand can present a great big bull’s-eye for trickery, and by that we mean tricks by those who do not have a legitimate customer service concern or complaint, but who wish to “score points” against a brand for other reasons.

 

There are several reasons why a brand might be targeted by trolls and pranksters:

  • It has a high profile
    Brands with high on and off-line recognition possess significant cachet as targets. It’s more fun for trolls to force attention from a large company than on the beauty salon in their hometown with 200 Facebook fans, and it rewards them with more notoriety for their efforts.
  • It listens (and responds)
    Ironically, a major brand that’s doing things right --  “out there” in the social media world, using Facebook, Twitter, G+, Pinterest, blogs, a hosted community, or any other social platform to open a dialogue with its customers -- is more vulnerable. This is because pranksters know that the brand is listening to what they have to say, and can release <strike>the hounds of hell</strike>their minions to compound the impact of an egregious falsehood about a product or service issue.
  • Pranksters can gain reputational value among their peers by damaging yours
    Our modern culture often celebrates schadenfreude, snark, tasteless memes, and the public downfall of a big name celebrity, politician or major brand. On a more limited level, some online communities exist purely to celebrate successful trolling attempts.
  • Pranksters are angry about something else
    They might be upset at corporations in general, a bad day, lack of attention, or cold coffee. Or they might have a grudge against your brand because they were employed at one of your locations and things didn’t work out.  Or your logo just bothers them.
  • Boredom
    School’s out for the day.

 

What if it’s not a prank? We recommend the following top four best practices:

  1. Listening: Let a moderation team monitor dialogue involving your brand in social media venues on a 24/7 basis to escalate issues when appropriate.
  2. Responding: Social media strategy and content experts should craft appropriate responses to online attacks, whether they’re the work of pranksters or customers with everyday legitimate needs and issues that should be addressed. It’s key to be able to differentiate between a real issue and a prank; do you have the bandwidth do to this every time?
  3. Planning: Do you have a Social Media Crisis Plan? How will you react if your brand is attacked? Do you know how to minimize the impact of online mischief? Who’s in charge of dealing with the fallout? Will you be able to measure the social impact on your business?  Do you have a strategy to come back stronger after the attack?
  4. Navigating (the unwritten rules of Social Media and brand response): Dealing with a crisis brought on by trolling or social attacks poorly can bring on more negative attention -- like deleting comments or “scrubbing” a Facebook wall of what appears to other customers to be legitimate criticism, or apologizing “the wrong way” when you really need to. Make sure to avoid these common gaffes and hit the right note with your response.


Most of the time, the social media crises brands must deal with aren’t minor hit-and-run trolling attacks or pranks by bored students, but legitimate complaints from individual customers about product issues, problems that haven’t received adequate customer service attention, misunderstandings, or legitimate objections to policies or advertising.

 

What’s your experience?  We want to hear from you.

 

This post was created in collaboration with Valerie Sprague who is a day-to-day contact for clients working with LiveWorld to develop their online communities. We help major brands create strategies to better communicate with and learn from consumers via our own platforms, Facebook, and Twitter. Her specialties are social media management and strategy, copywriting, and metrics analysis to provide actionable insights.

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