“Freak.”  Not the best term for customers, much less fans.

Over the weekend, one of our favorite small businesses had a social media snafu when a customer service rep called a Facebook fan a “freak.”  Yikes.  This was the response from the company’s founder, owner and namesake.

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Small businesses are often quick to write off big businesses as out of touch and too big to avoid occasional poor judgment or bad behavior on social media.  We completely disagree.  Businesses large and small can do better.  While we adore Erin Condren Designs, we can sadly use its recent incident as a good reminder of some key benefits and drawbacks of social media.

Everything is immediate and permanent. While admittedly we didn’t see the original “freak” post as it was taken down quickly, it is only a matter of time before a screenshot surfaces somewhere in the social media stratosphere.  Everything and anything posted on any social platform is out there for the world to see.  And commentary is swift.  Bottom line – always use the same level of care, even when posting seemingly the most innocuous posts.

It’s called social for a reason. Many small businesses mistake social media’s main benefit as being promotional in nature.  In fact social media is intended to be just that, social.  Its goal is to connect like-minded individuals on a common platform to share ideas.  While this is great for adoring fans to share their love, it also works the opposite way.  When snafus like this happen, the criticism rapidly builds and spreads, well, socially.  Brand haters are happy to jump on the bandwagon when they think their voice will appear louder.

Your people are your brand.  It is pretty much assumed that when a social media manager or any other employee with authority to speak on behalf of the company via social media posts something inappropriate, they will be fired.  But the damage they’ve already done is substantial.  Whether you choose to keep social media in-house or outsource it to a qualified firm, be sure that any and all of those with the ability to communicate using your company’s identity, do so in the company’s voice.  Regardless of the person behind the keyboard, it is the brand that suffers when the message goes awry.

Focus on customer service ALWAYS.  The aftermath of a bad social media situation is not the time to address customer service issues.   As your small business grows, keep a constant eye on customer service, product/service quality and customer love.  There will always be issues and there will always be the customer who is simply never satisfied.  But when you show your customers the love on a regular day, they’ll return it when things don’t go as planned.  Despite many recent Facebook posts to the contrary, we think Erin Condren Designs does a great job with managing customer expectations and delivering a high quality product with strong service to stand behind its offering.

All communications reflect the current situation.  As Erin Condren Designs learned the hard way, while one communications situation is occurring, all interaction must be addressed as if it is under the same fire.  With a situation occurring on Facebook, Pinterest pins cannot continue as if nothing is happening on a different platform.  The same applies to all online and offline media.  If in the middle of a PR crisis, do not continue posting everyday tips and tricks on Twitter.  Pause anything pre-scheduled to post.  Each situation requires a different course of action in terms of how to use various communications platforms, but no matter your plan, at a minimum, consider that your followers likely engage via multiple channels and respect the situation at hand.