Have you heard about Brad’s wife? If you haven’t, let me catch you up. It’s trending everywhere on social media right now. Hashtags abound: #bradswife, #justiceforbradswife, and #notmycountrystore. Memes are everywhere. To say it’s gone viral would be an understatement.

Recently, a guy named Brad posted a question as a comment on a post on Cracker Barrel’s Facebook page.

It then took off with a life of its own. A comedian posted about it on twitter and then the Internet did what the internet does best. Every single post from Cracker Barrel on social media is hounded with comments about Brad and his wife.

Is it funny? Yes, which is why everyone keeps participating. Part of what keeps it amusing is that Cracker Barrel has yet to respond. At all.

Other companies are responding. Chick-fil-A is apparently offering her a job.

I even saw a politician promising justice for the couple and an economy that produces a job for Brad’s wife. The memes? The memes are hilarious:

Even the Chicago Tribune is covering the story and reached out to Cracker Barrel for comment, yet they remain silent.

This, combined with the recent United Airlines leggings Twitter scandal, really illustrates how something simple on social media can blow up in a really big way. We also learn how the competition can take advantage of your bad situation for their own benefit.

What does this mean to you? It’s a good time to take a look at how you are handling your businesses social media accounts.

Three Important questions you should be asking yourself:

Is social media part of your marketing strategy?
Sadly, for some businesses this simply isn’t true. Maybe you are a small business and that’s one mountain you’ve yet to climb. Maybe you’ve created the accounts, but you have no time to dedicate to them. Maybe you just don’t understand social media. It’s time to leave those excuses (while very valid) behind, and get on board the social media train. Leverage its power for good and let it convey your marketing messaging to the world.

Is it an afterthought?
This shouldn’t be something that you do when you can get to it or you think about it. Posts should be planned and scheduled. Your accounts should be engaging. If you are doing it right, your social media accounts very quickly become the face of your business and often become your customer service department. This makes it one of the most important aspects of your business and how you present yourself.

Who is managing your social media accounts?
Is the person managing your social accounts able to give it the attention it deserves? Do they have the expertise to leverage your message to the right audience? Social media management is both a science and an art form – as platforms change and pivot, sometimes even weekly, you have to change with them.

Does the person that manages your accounts have the right tools in place to be able to respond quickly and effectively when a crisis happens? In the case of Cracker Barrel and United Airlines, had the response been timely and accurate the stories would not have become the negative press that they have.

There are ways to leverage a social media crisis for good.

Dippin Dots recently did. In just 64 hours, they were able to leverage what could have a nightmare into more great press than “11 Superbowl ads”. Why? They had professionals handling their accounts. The organization and their social media team determined that not responding was not an option. Then they strategically determined a response that fit their brand and led to massive attention.

Shama Hyder, CEO of Marketing Zen and Dippin Dots social team, recently spoke to Social Pros Podcast on how they used the controversy to Get 1 Billion Social Impressions. “Taking advantage of the opportunity, doing it in a way that wasn’t going to offend people, sticking to the brand values – we knew it was a risk. But it was a calculated risk that the leadership was willing to take.” And boy did that risk pay off for them in all the right ways.

She further speaks about how responding on social media isn’t necessarily about making your customers happy at all costs, but utilizing your customers to spread the message that you want to spread.

What’s Your Plan?

Social media strategy is a talent. A science AND an art. If your business has active social media accounts this is the year to put together a plan for handling angry customers, viral negativity, and irritable commenters.

When the crisis arrives you must be prepared to handle it properly. Work with your internal marketing team or talk with the Hoyden team to develop a plan that can be executed in times of trouble.

If you do, amazing things can happen for your business. But get it wrong and you may pay in ways that will hurt – like the symptoms of a bad virus.