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SAN FRANCISCO — Make sure your brand has lots of fans online, because you might need them someday.

That’s the advice from social media relationship platform HootSuite, and social community provider Get Satisfaction, in a panel today on customer loyalty at VentureBeat’s GrowthBeat 2014.

The most extreme cases-in-need, pointed out moderator Hannah Kuchler of the Financial Times, often come when some companies insist on putting up questions or subjects in social media that are bound to attract hostility.

A classic example: financial services firm J.P. Morgan unwisely decided to schedule — and soon cancelled — a Q&A session with a company executive about the lively topic, “how do you decide which houses to foreclose on?”

“People are asking those questions anyway,” panelist and Hootsuite VP of community and customer experience Jeanette Gibson told the audience. Even if a brand doesn’t want to fuel the fire with an ill-conceived attempt at honesty, she said, it’s important to “prepare for it.”

Companies need to “differentiate between major issues versus an irate customer,” said fellow panelist Rahul Sachdev, CEO/President of Get Satisfaction. “And leverage happier customers.”

“If a brand is active in Facebook, [often you’ll] see the fans come in and defend the brand,” Gibson advised. That’s where community nurturing comes in handy.

She cited Hootsuite’s Brand Ambassador program, which offers training to volunteers interested in learning about social media and spreading the word about Hootsuite products. Sachdev noted that a good community of brand fans “needs to have content, not just [content] generated by you but by the users, [and] it needs to have engagement.”

And it’s about building trust, Gibson pointed out. She noted that the London public transportation authorities frequently use Twitter to communicate about the trains’ schedules and issues.

When there was “mud that literally stopped trains,” she said, they “took pictures” and posted them.

Fans of the Underground could see the problems the trains were facing, and, figuratively speaking, came aboard.