Avoiding the biggest social media disaster of 2013

Every PR agency CEO eventually gives up a modicum of control to his or her staff, because growth means the principals hire managers and VPs who oversee the day-to-day work done on behalf of clients. To be clear, this is both liberating and terrifying.

Every PR agency CEO eventually gives up a modicum of control to his or her staff, because growth means the principals hire managers and VPs who oversee the day-to-day work done on behalf of clients. To be clear, this is both liberating and terrifying.

Yes, it's nice to know your firm is in good hands from an account management perspective. It means you needn't hover over employees' desks with a red pen, slashing and circling poor word choices in PR pitches and blog posts. Though I still attend my fair share of meetings – plenty of them, in fact – it's nice to know I don't always have to be in the room for the team to achieve banner results.

Trust is a wonderful thing, eh?

But the frightening part of growing an agency in 2013 is that one never knows when a single misstep by a staffer on social networks will unleash a firestorm of negative consequences – for the firm, for the employee, or for a client.

One solitary errant tweet has the potential to severely damage a firm's reputation. Worse, it can sour business deals that otherwise might have closed, and possibly cost you future business. There's nothing worse than having to assure a prospect that, “We won't make that same mistake with you…honest!”

My agency has thus far dodged this bullet, in spite of working in the trenches with most of our clients across the full spectrum of social channels. But trust me – I'm not so naïve to think it can't happen to us.

It can.

When you're managing Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for clients, and when you're providing direction on Pinterest, LinkedIn and YouTube, there exists a strong possibility that at some point, despite your best intentions and ongoing training, something, somewhere, will go wrong.

It's just math.

I can, however, sleep at night knowing that a few important safeguards are in place:

First, we hire battle-tested PR and social media pros who understand the nuances of acceptability in both traditional and social media.

Second, our teams regularly share horror stories that have happened to other companies and firms, and treat them as internal public service announcements. “Forewarned is forearmed,” as the saying goes.

Third, ongoing team training is critical, especially for newer employees. Companies need to develop social media policies, and the same applies to agencies.

Fourth, I don't ever fully relax and think, “Oh, nothing can go wrong.” That's foolhardy, and it sets you up perfectly to appear on the yearly wrap-up of the “Worst PR Disasters of 2013.”

Companies of all sizes and scopes – and the agencies that support them – are always 140 characters or a Facebook post away from a crisis. Don't tempt fate. Trust, but validate.

Scott Signore is principal and CEO of Matter Communications.

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