How to Avoid a Social Media Crisis

Picture of Aliza ShermanAliza Sherman is a web pioneer, author, and international speaker. Sherman is the author of 8 books about the Internet including The Everything Blogging Book, Streetwise Ecommerce, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Crowdsourcing and Social Media Engagement for Dummies.

How to Avoid a Social Media Crisis

Marketing in social networks can come with risks. These days, everybody has a platform and an audience through their preferred social network, and your company can become the target of someone else’s criticisms. One person’s venting can quickly evolve into a larger issue as other people share their negative posts and comments.

When a social media crisis takes place and something negative about your company goes “viral,” there are usually warning signs. You can use social media listening tools such as Sprout Social and Hootsuite to monitor what is being said about your company – both positive and negative – and identify potential problems in advance. These tools can help you track online communications and interactions to keep abreast of developments as a potential crisis is being addressed.

Advance preparation goes a long way to effectively handling potential a social media crisis. Here are some steps you should take to be prepared.

Identify potential problems. Think through the myriad of things that could go wrong with your product or service – a faulty part, an unpleasant customer service experience, or a failure to deliver on a contract, for example If you’re an events company, the situation could be as subjective as someone who did not enjoy their experience to a more clear cut incident such as an injury sustained at the event.

Develop response plans. Every issue that could potentially come up has a myriad of potential solutions address them. Work through your company’s internal process for responding to each issue you identify. Assign levels of urgency to those issues and develop processes for escalating issues internally to address them as quickly and effectively as possible. Someone not liking how clothing purchased from your company fit them is a complaint at a much different level than someone who claims your product caused them harm.

Assign response duties and procedures. Each issue may involve different people within your team to handle the resolution. Make sure all team members are trained, briefed, and equipped with the information and tools they need to carry out appropriate responses and actions. A poorly fitting outfit could go to a customer service worker who could provide instructions on how to return the item and give a refund. A manager might be better able to handle an injury complaint with the support of your company’s legal counsel to ensure that proper protocol is followed.

Negatives comments posted in social networks about your company, product or service require swift responses, however, you need to be careful how you publicly handle each situation. Most individuals who use social media to complain about a company are looking to be heard.

A prompt acknowledgment that you’ve “heard” or read what they’ve posted online can go a long way to diffusing a situation before it becomes a major problem or crisis. An appropriate first response could be, “We hear you and would like to address this issue. How can we reach you directly?”

In many cases, a person who is unhappy with your company will be relieved to be heard and acknowledged. In some cases, they may immediately back down and apologize. In most cases, they will provide you a way to reach out to them directly. At that point, speaking with them by phone can usually bring a situation to a swifter resolution than typing it out in the comments on Facebook or in the Twitter feed. Once the situation is resolved, the person with the initial complaint often returns to social media to post their satisfaction with your company’s response.

In some cases, however, a person is not willing to engage offline and will continue to post negatively online. Your subsequent responses then need to be more measured and crafted to diffuse the situation in public. Your approach should always be one of genuine concern and a willingness to work through the issue. The sooner you can get the conversation offline, the better, and your public responses could include that request such as “We understand and would like to address this situation with you. We’re standing by to speak with you directly at _______.”

Your goal should always be to provide a fair resolution to any problem where most of the process is handle privately. By paying close attention to what people are saying about your company and engaging with them in a respectful manner, you can change a negative into a more positive situation.