How to ID and Respond to Social Media Red Flags

Social media can be likened to the untamed Wild West. Businesses are sticking stakes in the ground and establishing pages, yet they’re not protecting their Web 2.0 territory like they should. Assigning an online PR “sheriff” can help you and your organization prepare for a potential online attack. You must, however, be able to recognize potential red flags to prevent small online incidents from turning into full-blown crises.


Monitoring social media is your first line of defense. Checking online platforms at regular intervals three times a day is an easy way to stay ahead of any potential issues without affecting your productivity.

It is important to note that different red flags apply to different platforms, i.e. what’s defamatory on Facebook may not be so on Yelp, etc. Below are the social media red flags that indicate you may have a PR crisis on your hands.

â–¶ Red Flag 1: On Facebook, keep an eye out for inappropriate pictures, negative comments from customers, status updates condemning the organization supported other fans, an administrator posting inaccurate information and anything obscene or defamatory.

People online, like in life, can be influenced to act by other people’s perceptions, negative or positive. Luckily, people can also see when a business/organization is trying its best to handle an issue. Be sure that if a negative post pops up that you respond quickly and fall on your sword, when necessary.

â–¶ Red Flag 2: For Twitter, monitor for fake accounts or handles under your organization’s name, negative retweets, defamatory trending topics and tweets challenging credibility. Also, not retweeting properly is a surefire way to make tweeters angry, so make sure to cite your original source. In this new frontier, it’s serious a no-no.

â–¶ Red Flag 3: Online, Yelp is the most difficult social media site to decipher for red flags because when people are writing reviews they are either excellent or really terrible. Consumers also understand this. But beware—you know you have a potential PR problem when the negative reviews far outweigh the positive. One tell-tale sign that a competitor maybe behind these reviews is when a negative post is followed by a positive remark about a competitor by name. Keep an eye out for an uptick in negative reviews, or reviews that are defamatory or have potential legal implications.

Remember, negative reviews are also a PR opportunity. If something is valid and fixable, take advantage of the feedback and correct it. Post what your client/business is doing to address the issue and you will win points for paying attention.

â–¶ Red Flag 4: If a negative blog post mentions your organization and uses erroneous information or sources, let measurement be your guide as to how—or whether—to respond.

Consider how many followers they have, how credible the person is writing it and how believable the post is to readers. To avoid paranoia, only monitor blogs with significant readership. And address the issue head-on—but on your blog or Web site—so it can unfold on your turf and on your terms.

â–¶ Red Flag 5: Some national brands have social media “trolls,” or people who always post hurtful negative comments or rants to bring attention to their cause or issue. The posts by online trolls may or may not have anything to do with what you are promoting.

Identify who these people are and block them on Facebook, Twitter and company blogs. Keep a close eye on them, but don’t fuel them by acknowledging them.

Here are some quick tips in addressing negative posts:

1) Respond Quickly. Ideally, you should respond within minutes to dodge adverse effects. If too much time has passed, address it in the following manner, “We’ve heard your concerns and we are working on a solution.” Sometimes people just want to know you’re listening.

2) Use Positive Language in Your Response. Never repeat the negative language. Offer actionable ways you will address the issue.

3) Institute a Strict Policy to delete abusive posts that use foul language, inaccurate information or attempt to defame your brand.

4) Establish a Process for other people in your organization to spot online issues and be available if concerns arise.

5) Keep Your Cool. Just because one negative post or incident occurs doesn’t mean you should begin implementing a full-on crisis plan. The delete button can be your best friend.

The Web 2.0 world may still be untamed, but with some vigilance and common sense, you can exert control. PRN


This article was written by Adele Cehrs, president of Washington D.C.-based Epic PR group. She can be reached at

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