Avoid a social crisis with one simple question

by · December 3, 20139 comments

There is so much fear wrapped up in social media for brands. Fear from legal, compliance, leadership, sales, marketing, technology, you name it and they are all a little scared of it in some way. And I have found through so many conversations with people who want to do a good job at social that the fear is all around making a mistake. Brands are terrified of becoming the next <insert latest brand who messed up in social>. Fear in humans causes insulin to pump through our bodies and produces fight or flight. We react in dramatic ways to fear. We can dodge fists or throw them ourselves. But, fear in brands causes paralysis. And in social, paralysis might be worse than making a gaffe. Brands want a social safety net. It is the #1 reason real time marketing isn’t adopted en mass today. There is no fail-safe. But then I realized, I have the answer.

Before I get there, you should know, in my personal and professional life I have a rather famous retort for people who say dumb, offensive, racist, sexist, or generally tacky stuff to me. It’s called “The Out-Loud Voice”. It goes like this: “Tracey, those glasses look terrible on you.” Me: “Oh, I’m sorry, but maybe you didn’t know. That was your out-loud voice.” It is shockingly effective in getting people to realize they should have considered an internal monologue for such thoughts. Because sometimes not everything that passes through the brain pan needs to be expressed externally. And as evidenced by years of experience using this retort, it totally works. And I realized, with the help of Nichole and Falls, that this should be a concept employed by social media community managers everywhere. Let’s call it: The “Out-Loud Voice” litmus test. And with that, a social media fail-safe is born!

Out Loud VoiceIn real time, the Out-Loud Voice litmus test it is a quick affirmation that could be the last check before something is posted online. And let’s be honest, what you post on social as a brand is very much out loud even if it is only written word. And without a doubt, most branded social media gaffes could have been prevented with this test. If the last person to read a post before it was approved and went live, took a look and said; “Hmmm, if I said this out loud in the middle of Manhattan (Kansas), would I offend a segment of the population?” If the answer is “Yes. Yes it would offend a segment of Manhattan, Kansas.” Or even if it is a “It is possible that if I said this out loud a segment of the population would be offended.” Then, it doesn’t go live.

It is a simple test. Takes 30 seconds to implement and can save lives! OK, maybe not lives, but it could certainly save jobs! The Onion, Home Depot, Kenneth Cole…the list goes on and on, but, had any of these brands applied the out-loud voice test, they may have saved hours of time apologizing for their poor taste and the damage to the brand. Not to mention the countless blog posts calling them out on a large-scale #fail.

Out-Loud Voice Test Primer

When to apply the “Out-Loud Voice” test:

All. The. Time. You should apply this test to any update, response to a customer, blog post, tweet, email, LinkedIn group comment. Basically, it is the old American Express slogan of social media posts. “The Out-Loud Voice test, don’t use social without it.”

How to apply the “Out-Loud Voice” test:

You see, as more and more brands adopt real-time marketing; the out-loud voice litmus test is an incredibly valuable tool. For example: You’re a community manager. You see something that is happening in pop culture and it might be begging for a quippy, even snarky social media post. You craft a post. Then, you re-read the post and ask: “If this were in my out-loud voice, would I offend a wide swath of our customers?” And then post accordingly.

Who should use the “Out-Loud Voice” test:

Everyone. Community managers, leaders, interns, customer service and agencies should all be using this test to manage their communications with customers. Basically, the entire world could benefit from this short test. Let’s be honest, this is not just good for brands, it is good for people too. I would be very happy to never, ever read another insane rant from someone I went to high school with, but I digress. The point is the Out-Loud Voice test is good for everyone and would make social media a better place.

The Out-Loud Voice test: Love it. Use it. Live it.

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About Tracey Parsons

Tracey Parsons

Since 1995, Tracey has been developing digital solutions. Currently SME Digital’s lead strategist, she continues to be dedicated to bringing cutting edge, thoughtful and measurable solutions to marketers. With more than 15 years in digital, Tracey not only brings vision, but the tools and strategies to execute against complex next generation concepts. She has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands to develop and devise cutting-edge social, mobile and digital marketing practices.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Shawn Hartwell

    That was a great article. I love your concept for people who often don’t think before they speak. I may just adopt that into my life and see how it works. I’ll also make sure to be careful of what I post socially for my blog.

    • Tracey Parsons

      Shawn, I wish I could say my own filter was fool proof. But, I try. It is a good rule of thumb. Just because it is written doesn’t make it “unheard”. Thanks for the comment!

  • Danielle

    Great thoughts, Tracey! Pace Salsa reps could have benefited from this litmus test recently.

    • Tracey Parsons

      They might have needed more than the out-loud voice test. Oh, Pace.

  • http://blog.wishpond.com/ Krista Bunskoek

    Great advice Tracey! I’m truly amazed at how many high profile brands neglect the “Out-Loud Voice” test. I’m even more amazed when big brands don’t know how to spin a social media mess up into their favour. We’re all human, afterall. Some of the best social media blunders are those that brands have worked with, not against – my fav example is from the Red Cross a few years back.

    • Tracey Parsons

      Could not agree more. I think it lends itself to my theory that crisis paralyzes brands and this includes the brain!

  • CKoepp

    Beautiful! Too often people type without thinking of the consequences, which are then disastrous.

    Humor can be another pitfall. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not.

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