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When tragedy strikes social media can hurt or help

Quite often on this blog I have preached the benefits of social media. However, there are sometimes that it can actually hurt a news situation when it isn’t managed correctly.

The hostage situation at the high school in Marinette, Wis. this week is a prime example of the dangers of unmanaged social media. Rumors shared on social media were reaching people long before actual facts were. In addition to sharing information, journalists and public officials should be monitoring the situation and dispelling rumors.

Media outlets pride themselves on seeking truth and reporting it. The Wisconsin news organizations did a good job of sharing the facts via Facebook and Twitter, but they didn’t counter rumors.

Compare that to when the plane crashed into the IRS building in Austin, Texas. The Austin-American Statesman (@statesman on Twitter) was sharing truth and dispelling rumors. Steve Buttry wrote a great case study based on that event and The Statesman’s coverage.

Buttry has also written other posts, including this one, on how to effectively use Twitter during a breaking news situation.

In a tragedy situation such as the Marinette hostage case it’s hard enough for the media to cover the story well, but it’s well worth the challenge to search out and defeat the rumors that will be flying on social media. And, remember any situation like this involves real humans, tread lightly.

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Will my job still exist?

For my thoughts on how my views of my future in journalism have changed over the last year and a half, check out this blog post I wrote for a journalism class.

Building a community

As I discussed in my previous post, I believe companies have been using Twitter in one of three ways: as a PR/Marketing machine, as a customer service platform or to engage their customers and form an online community. While the focus is a little different, each does have a customer services impact. It is the latter of the three that I will be discussing today.

The community approach encourages more than just communication from the company to its customers. It encourages customers to communicate with each other.

It does more than draw attention to the company. It portrays the company as one that cares about its customers. The key to this model’s success is how it responds to the needs of the customers (here’s the customer service angle).

A example of this approach is Panchero’s Mexican Grill, a chain of  made to order burrito restaurants based out of Coralville, Iowa.

If you check out Panchero’s Twitter feed you will see what I mean. Reid Travis, the social media manager for Panchero’s, monitors the feed and actively engages with the community.

Panchero’s even takes the concept of tweetups one step further and hosts “burritoups” at its restaurants.

“Panchero’s basically started the Twitter account with the goal of having a way to intercept and participate in conversations taking place online and also to spark conversation about Panchero’s online,” Travis said.

I would say with more than 3,400 followers and 5,700 tweets, Panchero’s is achieving that goal.

With Panchero’s “burritoups” and community engagement many of the followers have had the opportunity to meet Travis in person and if they haven’t they still communicate with him frequently.

If you go into a restaurant and have a negative experience are you more likely to ignore it, call customer service and complain or simply send a quick tweet to someone you have established a rapport with?

Watching for negative tweets and responding is a key measure of a company’s success at this approach.

While, I had  to go back several days to find a negative tweet, Travis responds to them and requests more details.

“@GeraldHenry That doesn’t sound too good. Something I can help with?:

Reaching out like this shows the customer, who in this case didn’t even mention @pancheros in his original tweet, that Panchero’s wants to rectify the situation. The responses are public and other customers can see that Panchero’s reacts to issues and shines a more positive light on the company.

Panchero’s also hosts Twitter Trivia Fridays. Trivia Fridays incorporates Panchero’s other social media outlets as the winners are announced in a video posted on the company’s YouTube and blog.

“A platform like Twitter is a dream come true for companies who want to focus on customer service and have a drive to connect with their consumers. I think it’s important for companies to keep up with where their consumers are gathering,” Travis said.

I’m sure there are others taking Panchero’s approach, but I have struggled to find them. If you know of any please leave me a comment or contact me at smithbm12@gmail.com. I would love to follow up with additional examples.

In the interest of disclosure: I am a regular customer of Panchero’s and have participated in contests they hosted. I did win one contest. However, I am not receiving anything from Panchero’s for posting this blog. Everything I have written is my own opinion (with the exception of Reid Travis’s quotes of course).