Many marketers and companies are concerned with potentially negative results and cited fear of user-generated negativity as a primary factor limiting willingness to venture into social media. Here are key tactics for using social media as a lever for reputation management.

Expect to make mistakes. First, any active social marketer can expect to make mistakes which cost sleep, cause angst and alienate others—it’s the reality of the game. Subscribe to the theory that “nothing ventured is nothing gained” and forgive yourself in advance for inevitable screw-ups. Social media is just that: social.

Humans tend to be unpredictable, especially in groups. Anyone who dives into social media without accepting that the results will be a mixed-bag-learning-curve risks being prematurely discouraged at inevitable rejection. Hell, several record companies said “no” to Elvis. Not everyone is going to love you.

Do not lose your cool (or, stupid is as stupid does).
This can’t be stressed enough. No matter what the appropriate PR crises response turns out to be, there is seldom equity in hasty emotional comebacks. It rarely works to respond during the heat of anger, so get a grip. When rejected, it’s normal to feel hurt, anger, sadness and even rage. Count to 350, wait until tomorrow, eat some comfort food, or find another way to chill out.

It’s true that some disasters require an immediate online response, but these instances are truly rare. There’s nearly always 5 minutes or 2 hours available to wait without impacting the ultimate outcome. Pay attention to emotional red flags and be the most mature party at the table.

Don’t anger the natives. Preempt debacles by holistically participating wherever online networking takes you. Many—OK, most—passionate social community members either dislike or downright hate marketers. Their concerns are valid in many cases because average-to-bad SMO wanna-be media marketing moguls seriously abuse the privileges of membership. Be a responsible social media marketer.

Reckless or selfish SMOs dilute the neighborhood content stream, wrecking it for everybody. This common phenomenon particularly irks long term tagging and bookmarking site users. Be cognizant of the norms. Give exponentially more than you take. Respect the indigenous cultural and join in to preserve what’s best about the community. Give a hoot—don’t content pollute. Never spam.

Cast your ego aside. A savvy lawyer gave me incredibly useful advice at my wedding. He said, “When my wife and I disagree, I tell her that she ‘might’ be right.” He pointed out that responding with a non-binding statement ceding to the other’s perspective really gives nothing away at all except respect. Success and peace is what matters, not who’s right.

When you are attacked in social media and every fiber in your body wants to throttle someone because they’re so totally wrong, check your ego and take a breath. It doesn’t matter if your side “wins” if the flamers have already burnt your reputation down. It’s rather difficult to unring a bell.

Pre-plan to deal with crisis & opportunity. Ideally, it’s best to have a contingency plan in place for when things hit the fan. We teach clients to create a designated PR council, of which we’re a member. Depending on the size of your organization, this could be as basic as running the situation by your spouse or as complex as assembling the board of directors. Regardless of what’s appropriate in your situation, think ahead and have your resources lined up and ready to go.

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