Managing a social media crisis

A social media fiasco can stall your business's growth and tarnish your reputation. When a viral mishap makes its way into the news, businesses must act quickly to save face and re-establish credibility in a digital landscape where damage control has become an art form. A solid social media strategy for any business should include crisis communication plans that outline responses to various scenarios, with the goal of mitigating harm.

When you put your business out there for the public, you're bound to get feedback — good and bad. While it's tempting to respond with snark or rhetoric, that never solves anything — only makes it worse. No matter what, it's important to react to your audience in a way that doesn't inflame an already touchy situation.  

People make fast — and often rash — judgements about brands on social media; not just based on what they see, but also how they are treated by customer service agents. When things do go wrong, in an age when social media plays such a huge role in our daily lives, the consequences are bigger than ever.

The internet is a double-edged sword: it can help spread your message and engage more potential customers, but it also spreads messages faster than you can control them.  The importance of quality copy cannot be overstated. It's perhaps the most important part of your business — your brand's voice.

As the saying goes, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression". The way in which a business manages its social media channels and responds to customer feedback can make or break its reputation online.

Here are some tips for avoiding a social media disaster;

Create a social media policy for your business

A social media policy should be equally about what you do, as it is about what you don't. It's not enough to simply define what is off limits — employees need to be guided on how they, as representatives of your brand, can and should behave on social media. A strong social media policy should also define your brand's expectations for how the platform can be used to support the company.

If you want to have a loud and active social media presence, you need to create a social media policy. A consistent editorial policy will ensure that all of your social media channels are on-brand, on-message and properly integrated into your overall marketing strategy. On the other hand, a lack of a unified voice — or worse, conflicting messages — can be confusing to followers and may lead to customer dissatisfaction. By outlining the parameters of how you'll deliver content across channels, it also allows room for creatives to be creative

Monitor social media channels for potential issues

Identifying problems as soon as they arise is critical to crisis prevention. Unfortunately, you may never know about the biggest issues facing your company because the majority of customers prefer to vent about their shopping experience on social media rather than ask for help directly. To ensure these “dark complaints” don't get missed and cause a negative impact on your business, brands need transparent tools that can listen in on every mention of your company online — dark or not.

Social listening tools can help you keep up with all the various ways that your customers are talking about you. By monitoring keywords, indirect mentions, and direct mentions, companies can gain a more holistic understanding of how customers perceive their brand — leading to greater customer satisfaction and better word-of-mouth marketing.

Have a response strategy

Social media is a moving target: when you're heartbroken, excited or angry, it's hard not to fire off your thoughts on Twitter. But brands are under intense pressure to maintain a consistent tone of voice on social media — and to steer clear of controversial topics.

As such, it’s important that brands have a response strategy in place to deal with potential issues before they escalate. Direct messages are an invaluable channel of customer engagement that businesses can use to keep their finger on the pulse of customer service — cutting down on costs (and bad press) by addressing issues before they escalate.

Employ a dedicated team

Given the impact of social media on consumer trends and purchase behaviour, running a business without any dedicated people to run its social channels is like driving with your eyes closed. If you want to be heard, you need to have a way to listen. Dedicate one or two people on your team to represent your brand online—or even consider outsourcing social media management work to a partner that can keep your accounts clean and professional.

Any brand that's active on social media knows that there are few things worse than an online scandal or unruly community. A good social media manager is the buffer between your company and the internet; they're the ones keeping a watchful eye out for negative comments or trolls, and they're the ones stepping in when things get too out of hand.

Learn from your mistakes

Every now and then, you may have to deal with a bad situation — but if you learn from it, you can be ready for the next time. If something negative happens on social media, your immediate reaction might be to get defensive. However, it’s always better to take the time to reflect on what happened and address the problem with compassion and tact.

It’s not just your followers that you need to look after — it’s your business. Social media is an excellent platform for brands to interact with their existing and potential customers. However, like traditional media, they can be a haven for cyber-bullies and trolls. A good Social Media monitoring tool can help find these kinds of comments and give you the option to respond immediately.

Consider whether you've taken every opportunity to prevent similar crises in the future. If you aren't providing adequate training for your staff, take action immediately to prevent a repeat of this crisis — and use it as an opportunity to review your crisis communication plan and prepare your team for the next time something breaks.

Respond to Criticism Professionally

There's a fine line between engaging with your customers and being blatantly offensive. Every business owner should know this. If you're responding to a negative comment, be sure to keep it professional — even if the commenter isn't. Responding to criticism in a calm and collected manner is both the best way to defuse a negative situation and also protect your brand image.

Dealing with a bad comment is harder than it seems. It's tempting to delete a negative review altogether, but this strategy could backfire. Comments that are taken down universally seem less "legitimate," increasing the likelihood of future backlash. Negative comments also draw more attention from other users, making it the perfect opportunity for people to jump in and voice their opinion.

A frustrated customer has only one goal: to vent their anger. Chances are they want to do it quickly, so they'll avoid leaving you an email. Adding a simple, easy-to-find feedback button to your site can prevent the angry tweet — because it's effortless for them to use.

Think before you post

What do a Red Cross Twitter gaffe and a Domino's cheese-nose escapade have in common? Both were instances of brands missing the mark on engaging with customers socially.

You can't control your audience. Just like you need to be careful with what you say in person, you need to be mindful of what you post online as well. This means that no matter what your opinions are, be sure that you're being respectful and courteous to those who disagree with them. Avoid the urge to insult or to set up straw man arguments, because that will only serve to discredit you and your brand.

Social media is a powerful tool, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Anything that you post can be seen by the public, including your past and potential future clients. You're accountable for every single post that goes up on your page, so it's important to think about each one before it's published.


Warren Buffett said it best: "A corporate reputation once broken may take decades to rebuild." The same is true for personal reputations; a single malicious comment or bit of gossip can ruin someone's career. It's critical that businesses keep and reinforce a positive image — make the most of every interaction with customers, and be ready to deal with potentially negative situations.

Transparency and high expectations are crucial in our digital world. A crisis can spread like wildfire, and companies must have the infrastructure to make good on their mistakes. Real-time messaging lets businesses develop stronger relationships with customers, tackle issues faster, and — ideally — avoid crises altogether.

Social media is like a wild jungle: it's filled with unexpected surprises and dangers. When businesses ignore the impact of their social media presence, they leave themselves vulnerable to suffering from low engagement rates, unhappy customers, and even potential PR crises. If you have a social presence, you need to develop a comprehensive social media policy and community management planwithin your company before any potential PR disasters strike.

Hiring a specialised social media partner is the best way to take advantage of the value of social media — their analysis and expertise offer a variety of insights into your brand, your competitors, and the latest trends. Armed with this knowledge, they can effectively provide a strong voice for your brand and successfully deal with trolls when they come knocking.