Social media has changed the way brands and consumers connect, allowing marketers to engage with customers and prospects on a personal level. But the stronger and more human this relationship gets, the more there is to lose – and the more crucial social media listening becomes.

The trials of friendship

On social media, consumers interact with brands in the same way they interact with friends. They share joy, join conversations, and celebrate achievements. The more brands try to forge human connections with their consumers, the more consumers treat them like humans. But when things go wrong for the customer, they have two choices: disengage from the brand, or call them out. Obviously, from the brand perspective, neither option is appealing.

It’s not dissimilar to the fallout of a public argument between online friends – except it’s far worse. Wherever the blame lies, whichever sides are chosen by mutual friends, the worst case scenario there is that one party will ceremoniously block and un-friend the other, and everyone moves on.

But when brands and consumers feud online, the façade of a friendly relationship shatters instantly, and the brand becomes the antagonist. Consumers are happy to act like friends when their needs are being met – but if a brand makes a mistake, their actions can and will be scrutinized. Things go nuclear. Consumers are quick to cast judgment – and share it.

A marketing misstep is always a solid reminder that the social relationship between brand and consumer is a very fragile thing – but it’s best to have this top of mind as a preventative measure.

Managing relationships with social media listening

As with problems in personal relationships, issues between brands and consumers can usually be resolved with communication. The challenge is that one fan crying out amongst thousands may not make enough “noise” for brands to notice – that is, until they rally the social troops and the issue goes viral.

Social media listening is how brands avoid this outcome – by monitoring and analyzing sentiment to become aware of potential crises before they escalate, or perhaps even before they occur. If a storm is brewing, marketers need to know about it – at the single tweet level.

In fact, social media crisis monitoring and management has a lot in common with capitalizing on viral trends: marketers with their ear to the ground can jump in quickly and reap the rewards, or in the case of a crisis, avert it, which is reward enough.

Conversely, those who arrive late to such social conversations have missed their chance – whether that’s to grow visibility or save their reputation. The clear value of social listening tools like Audience3DTM is they can keep minor discontent from spinning into total anarchy.

But there’s even more to be gained. Smart application of social monitoring tools can tell you exactly how effective or ineffective your marketing spend is. And as overspending is rife in the marketing and PR industries, this is a unique moment where marketers can prove ROI unlike any other time in marketing history. Audience3DTM can efficiently monitor your customers, your competitor’s customers and your target market allowing effective and efficient spend managing potential and actual crisis situations

Avoiding persecution in the court of social

Of course, brands have to know how to apply these tools to see a difference – for example, looking beyond their own brand mentions to understand the overall attitudes of consumers on social.

Minor social media missteps (like BlackBerry tweeting an image of its new product using Twitter for iPhone) get retweeted because they’re entertaining. Brands can recover quickly from mistakes like these, as they make the brand look more human – and with so many brands actively trying to cultivate this impression, a victimless error fits right in.

The real problems occur when brands don’t (or can’t) read the room. From Bic South Africa’s appallingly sexist Women’s Day post to Digornio’s terrible misinterpretation of the #WhyIStayed domestic abuse hashtag, too many marketers are jumping on bandwagons without considering how their audience feels.

And this information can – and must – inform all areas of brand marketing; because at the end of the day that’s where any public outcry will occur.

Consider the unfortunate Bloomingdale’s ad this past holiday season. Though the ad appeared in their catalog, it was on social media that the brand suffered the consequences of their error in judgment.

And what happened there? Did they somehow miss the numerous conversations about rape culture occurring in the social sphere in recent months? Did they think there was anyone in their audience who’d actually find that ad clever?

A lack of research is to blame in all cases – and perhaps also a lack of understanding that, however friendly it may seem, the social relationship between brand and consumer is still, ultimately, a business one. While they want brands to see them as people – not “prospects” – consumers still want brands to act professional, particularly when mistakes have been made.

Of course, if brands are listening well, such mistakes should be avoidable. And that’s really the key to social media crisis management: it starts with prevention.

Are you armed to prevent a reputation crisis? Reach out for a live demo of A3D to find out what consumers think of you in real-time.

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