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We’ve all watched as Qantas has dominated news headlines for the last few weeks – first as stop work action delayed travellers around the nation, secondly as continuing pay negotiations failed and staff again walked off the job, and finally as a social media competition went horribly wrong.

I struggle to think of a better example of a company that has swiftly earned the ire of a nation, not once, but three times over.

While there’s plenty of commentary around handling PR when things go wrong, I think more specifically, we need to look at how social media can contribute to resolving the fall out – or, if handled incorrectly, contribute to it.

Firstly, consolidate your social assets. When Qantas flights were grounded, the PR and marketing teams had three Qantas twitter accounts. One of which posted updates sporadically, two of which remained dormant. If you must have separate accounts for different areas of your business, make sure they are retweeting or sharing all critical information coming from your most active account.  Don’t assume that all your customers are following all accounts, or are even following the right account for their needs.

Secondly – use social media to add a personal touch to your communications. It’s social media, remember? Bland, vague statements are for your website and when CEO’s are facing the media. Use the opportunity to reply personally, as much as you can (think about your own experience, how great does it feel when a brand or celebrity addresses you personally on Twitter?). While you might be limited in the information that you can disclose, you can offer empathy and sincerity. If you’ve stuffed up, be genuine and apologise. In a case of too little too late, Qantas have in the last week, hired four social media monitors – a move that would have been all too valuable in the previous weeks. If you don’t have the resources to handle an outbreak, consider engaging the services of a digital agency. The cost of their services are low in comparison to the potential cost of irreparable brand damage.

And exercise a bit of discretion. In some cases, you might be too close to your brand to see the consumer’s view of your actions. It never hurts to get some outside advice, whether it’s a quick poll of customers or checking in with an industry expert or agency.  A lesson for Qantas, perhaps. While I’m sure the latest #qantasluxury Twitter competition sounded great in their weekly marketing meeting, it was quickly taken over by bitter customers, still smarting from recent events.  Instead of an engaging competition that would have given them plenty of marketing fodder, they’re left with a hijacked hashtag and a red face once again.

With the rise of social media and its role in brand marketing, we’re seeing a real power shift. Brand Managers are no longer in complete control of their company’s image. Consumers now hold the keys, and as we’ve seen time and time again, can start a PR disaster with a few simple tweets. Tread carefully, tread thoughtfully, and reap the benefits!

What other examples of social media mismanagement have you seen?

What do you think?

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Emma Mulquiney

Emma Mulquiney

As resident social media expert and editor of <a href="http://myob.com.au/blog/">The Pulse</a>, Emma is the online voice of MYOB. With a background in digital marketing, graphic design and advertising, she has a keen interest in new technology, photography and web design. Find Emma on <a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/MYOBteam">Twitter"</a>, or connect with her on <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/pub/emma-mulquiney/22/a11/433">LinkedIn</a>

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