The power of social networks cannot be underestimated and the detrimental effect it can have on a business, if mismanaged, must be considered. So how can you prevent crisis?

As is so often highlighted, social networks have changed the way people and businesses interact, offering new and innovative ways for communication. These powerful platforms, if managed correctly, can have a hugely positive impact; but they can also lead to crisis.

There are a few important things to remember for businesses operating online. The first is that everything posted online, stays online. Real-time communication is seen by everyone and everybody has an opinion. This is led by freedom of speech. The Internet is open and anybody can access, post and share opinions, but negativity spreads, and press that is trending can be for good and for bad.  ‘United breaks guitars’ was a protest song by Canadian musician Dave Caroll and chronicles a real-life experience of how United Airlines broke his guitar on a trip in 2008. United avoided paying $1,200 in damages but it cost them 10,772,839 negative views on YouTube.

Brands need to prepare for attacks, hijacks and impersonations that all violate the ever-important trust and reputation that they strive to establish. Warren Buffett famously quoted; “If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.”

An often-controversial point is whether brands should indeed respond, but thoughtful response can be central to survival of a crisis. Toyota famously used Twitter to communicate during the Lexus GX460 crisis, and was able to offer instant support to owners. Primark’s profits increased 44% last year despite the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, due to a well navigated crisis approach that enabled their brand to survive the impact of this tragic event. Primark accepted responsibility and publically offered support across their platforms to explain what they were going to do about it.

Clearly prevention is better than cure, but where possible, the ability to anticipate conversation and prepare for crisis is essential. Original, consistent content can be a great way to set the right expectations. Transparency is key, as is listening and being engaging with consumers.