Apart from risk tolerance, she cites corporate culture and technology skills within the company as major influences on policies. She offers as an example a social media response chart developed by the United States Air Force; the chart can also serve as a good model for future response plans.
One way to limit future mistakes is to assign social media to people who have been specifically trained in it, not simply those who seem right for the job because they have a Twitter following or a recognizable public presence. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who was a celebrity voice for disability insurer AFLAC, not only appeared in TV spots for the company, but had access to the company's branded Twitter account. When he tweeted a number of crude jokes about the quake in Japan (where AFLAC has a major business presence), Gottfried was let go and the company quickly issued an apology (in this case, as an official press release) and cast for a replacement.
"Just because that comedian worked well as the voice of the duck in a controlled environment doesn't mean giving him free reign to speak on your behalf in social media is a good idea," says Corcoran. "That's why it's so important not to have just anybody, especially people with no PR and/or customer service skills, with access to those things."
If you can spare the effort and personnel, keep an eye on your profile in various social media, especially those where you can provide official responses to negative feedback. Another option is to consider hiring an outside firm to monitor your online reputation. Third-party reputation management firms can provide both early warnings (to let you know when trouble's brewing) and postmortems (to indicate how effective your cleanup was).
A smaller company can work closely with such a firm, as it would with a regular PR agency. A larger company that doesn't yet have an internal social media management division can make use of an outside agency in the interim, "especially with situations that impact market conditions and stock price," DiMauro says. "But there also needs to be an eye towards organizational integration. For example, if a new product launch is catching heat for a defect, product development needs to participate as they will have the most insight into the issue. This helps lend credibility and authenticity to the response."
What matters first with a social media mistake is responding quickly, being transparent and demonstrating sincerity -- all of which should follow a social gaffe committed in person and in public. Social media, though, introduces complications all its own: How you've been using it all along will also affect your ability to clean up after it.
This is why what comes after the mistake is just as important, if not more so: The chance to learn why it happened in the first place and do something about it. You may find better ways to use social media because of this. If you've been spammy or thoughtless, you need to own up to that. If your audience makes good points about your shortcomings (however badly they phrase them), you need to respond to those too.
Your mother probably told you, "You only get one chance to make a first impression." She might not have been thinking about cleaning up after a mistaken tweet or dealing with a rogue post to your Facebook wall, but she's still right. Because, yes, there is such a thing as bad PR.
Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over 15 years for a variety of publications.