Krampus with Pagonis

Oy, oy, oy. You already know what happened with United. If you don’t, here’s a mighty complete recount of how social media made United the biggest news on the internet.

Now, we’re not here to pass judgment or to speculate on how that particular incident could have been prevented. We’re here to tell you what to do in case you or one of your employees ever make a similar mistake to avoid a social media catastrophe. Because you are on the Internet, aren’t you? If not you should — with ePaisa’s loyalty and marketing tools it’s easy.

You aren’t as big as United, so you may wonder, why should I care? Let’s start by explaining why you should care.

The actual size of your Extended Network

Even if you only have a few friends and followers, you are connected to everyone across Social Media. How come? Because those friends and followers you have also have friends and followers. And the friends and followers of your friends and followers have friends and followers too. Think of it as a railroad network. Some persons have lots of connections, like the stations at Mumbai or Delhi. Some persons have few connections, like the Tenkasi station in Tamil, or the Amritsar station, in the Punjab. Still, one can travel between Tenkasi and Amritsar by changing trains a few times. People on social media act like station hubs, connecting other people, even across platforms, every time they interact with someone else’s post. Just imagine the number of hearts you’d get if @priyankachopra with her 17.1 million followers re-tweeted one of your tweets. And because social media travels through the rail tracks of the Internet, a tweet from Tenkasi may take only seconds to travel all the way to Amritsar, instead of the two and a half days it would take to travel by train.

Going Viral

You’ve heard of videos going “viral.” Content does not go viral at random; people must spread it by interacting with it, either by sharing, liking or commenting on it. When you and a friend go down a path, and you are overcome by the scent of beautiful jasmine flowers and comment on it aloud, your friend may be the only person that hears your comment. When you post a picture of those flowers, your close network may get to learn about them too. Depending on the size of your close network (and your popularity), you may get a comment or two, but what if you post a picture of one monstrous jasmine flower devouring your friend? That may cause some more reactions, huh? For content to go viral, two things are necessary: the content should be easy to share—and pretty much everything posted on the Internet is—and the content should be relevant. Sex, food, and fear engage everyone. Then it’s all a matter of what the public cares about.

No one likes cheaters

Now, what if you post a picture of your friend doing something really, really bad, and just for fun, like burning an entire field of jasmine shrubs. Full of baby kittens. People may react to that too, right?

To increase our chances of survival, we live in societies. And to increase the chances of society to survive, we follow rules. When we follow the rules, only our close kin cares enough to give us praise. When we break a rule, strangers may step in to let us know that wasn’t cool. The bigger the sin, the more that will rise to chastise the sinner. Morality is part of what we are. As Steven Pinker puts it humans feel that “not only is it allowable to inflict pain on a person who has broken a moral rule; it is wrong not to.” And when we’re bored or feel bitter about something, taking it out on someone else feels good, doesn’t it? Tweeting about #UnitedAirlines is the modern equivalent to attending a public hanging. And because of the affordances of social media, you don’t need to put on your pants to burn the witch.

Combine our innate desire to punish the wicked with how easy it is to share content nowadays (it takes a click), and the size of our entire extended network (friends of friends of friends of friends), and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion? Do something that incites the wrath of the Internet, and you will go viral, but for the wrong reasons. As of March 2017, Facebook has 1.86 billion users. As of February 2017, Twitter has 319 million active accounts. How many of them do you think didn’t hear about Cecil’s death?

So, what to do when everything goes wrong?

For a start, don’t do anything rotten. If you do, this our take:

Empower your employees.

When protocol conflicts with the fair and decent thing to do, your employees should feel confident you will trust their judgment by abandoning protocol. Train them, motivate them, and make sure they’re ready to make good decisions. The moment you hire your first employee, you lose 100 percent control on your company.

Own your mistake.

Remember that you’re dealing with the All Judgmental Internet, a monster of a million heads that hear no reasons. You did something wrong, so be ready to apologize once, apologize twice, apologize thrice and do not try to justify it by saying you were merely following standard procedures. If your procedures led you to do something morally wrong, or at least appraised by the public at large as morally wrong, then your procedures were wrong. Recognize it.

Do not blame it on someone else.

Especially not the victim. Within one day, the United CEO was blaming the victim. That is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline! Do not blame it on villainous employees, either, even if it was ultimately their fault. From the viewer’s eyes, it is your company who is at fault. Ultimately, what employees do on company time is your company’s responsibility. On the public’s eye, if your employees do something wrong it is because you did not supervise them or train them correctly. Settle things internally, but as the leader, you must publicly own blame.

Remind the public that you are more than a faceless brand.

As a company, you are a community. You are more than a “heartless” CEO and a bunch of “greedy shareholders.” You are the company’s employees. You are the company’s vendors. Show those faces! Remind the public that your mistake hurts your team too. In other words, appeal to people’s sense of compassion by reminding them that by attacking your brand they are attacking real people. Do not try to become a martyr, just show some real faces with whom the public can empathize. Remember the Domino’s Pizza scandal when a couple of troubled employees pretended to taint customers’ orders with unsanitary tricks? Domino’s CEO jumped to defend the brand and accuse the employees as disgusting. That helped, but it took months to restore the public’s trust in the brand. Had Domino’s shown how those two troublemakers hurt the owner and employees of the franchise affected, maybe the public would have shown more sympathy to the brand.

Think coldly but be empathic.

If you are too upset to deal with the public, then don’t. Have someone less emotionally affected draft all communications, but make sure that this person empathizes with who the public recognizes as the victim.

Offer a solution.

If you cannot offer a solution right away, state that you are working on one. Don’t take too long! It’s better to overcompensate a disgruntled client than to lose all future ones. United Airlines stock took a big hit in the aftermath of the scandal. The price of its shares will probably go up again, but could your business take a similar hit?

— Originally written for ePaisa.com – enabling commerce