Managing a Social Media Crisis And How To Avoid Them


While most of us are aware of the benefits on engaging with customers online, many brands are still fearful of utilising social media within their marketing activities for fear of receiving a negative response.

We often enjoy highlighting the brands that fail in their quest for social media glory, however most of what we see could have been prevented if the proper handling procedures were in place.

Plan for it

The first step to avoiding disaster is to prepare for it in your planning. This can actually be quite fun as it’s the opposite to what a lot of us are used to. Understanding how a campaign can be twisted, hijacked or just timed wrong can make the difference between success and failure. Look at the worst case scenario and plan in your response in advance, that way you are in a position to nip any nonsense in the bud before it escalates. 

If you are too close or so in love with your brand that you are blind to its faults, take your ideas to the customer service team, they’ll probably be able to offer some great insight into how the customers talk about your brand. Don’t be afraid to hear negatives, it doesn’t mean the campaign is a bad idea, it just means you’ll need to have a plan in place if things start to go awry.

Also make sure you’re using the right platform, high risk campaigns that can easily be hijacked probably don’t belong on Twitter, in this instance use Facebook where you have more control over the responses you receive.

Listen carefully

One of the best ways to avert disaster is to act fast, this means you need to know as soon as possible when your brand has attracted some negative attention. There are many tools that can help you to keep track of online conversations and they can alert you to any negative comments. The sooner you can spot and respond to negative comments, the less likely they are to develop into a situation that could damage your online reputation.

One of the biggest social media disasters we highlighted last year was the VW fb campaign which started off as a fairly innocuous invite to customers to suggest ways the brand could improve their products. An early comment raised issue with the environmental impact of the brand and asked how they planned to address it. Not exactly what VW had hoped for i’m sure but it gave them a great opportunity to engage with those less supportive. What actually happened was VW remained silent as more and more comments began piling up, comments which soon started to berate the company for their lack of response. The disaster was picked up by bloggers and news sites all over the world and to date the post is still attracting comments.

I wonder what would have happened if VW had responded quickly to the first few comments? Could they have changed the outcome and engaged positively with their critics? Could they have utilised the insight they gained from those who felt strongly enough to ask the question?

Even the most engaging brand will have its critics and you should never be afraid of hearing from them. Handled properly, early and positive intervention can turn your biggest critic into a loyal advocate.

Don’t work in isolation

Most brands still view social media as a marketing function but customers look to online profiles for more than just perky promotional messages. Understanding what is happening across the organisation can help to strengthen your offering and provide much needed communication during difficult problems. Without this you run the risk of being isolated from the rest of the company and alienating your customers when they are looking for support.

There have been many instances of brands continuing to push marketing messages through social profiles profiles which the company is experience a significant loss of service or disruption. Telling the world how wonderful you are in the face of disgruntled customers is a sure fire way to get negative feedback. Keep in touch with those outside of your immediate team, check in on any major issues and work out how you can support them by answering questions, giving real time updates and apologising for the inconvenience. Your customer service team will thank you for not riling up the customers even more.

Know when to escalate

While most negative comments can be handled on the spot by whoever is managing your social media, there will be instances when you’ll need to bring in other team members to help you. Plan in advance what the triggers may be and identify who you need to contact and when. Having this back-up gives you a safety net to work with and means that, if the worst happens, you can act fast rather than running round trying to find someone to help.

Identify and task specific individuals and make sure they know what their role is, determine how you will keep key people informed so you avoid having to deal with updating management while you’re trying to resolve a crisis. Having a plan in place will save knee-jerk reactions and give you the confidence to deal with problems swiftly and positively.

Say sorry when you mess up

Making mistakes is how we learn and your customers don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, it’s when a crisis occurs that you can really show your customers what you’re made of and demonstrate customer service that is second to none. Most complaints occur when people feel they are not being heard, embed great customer relations principles into your social media plan and if you make a mistake just say sorry and fix it. Most customers will forget in time what the problem was, but they will remember how they felt about your response.

You won’t be able to avoid attracting negative comments, not everyone will love what you do. But by having a plan for dealing with them you can avoid turning a low grumble into a full on attack and often develop new advocates for your brand.

Interested in Digital Marketing Elearning - Start Free 30 Day Trial >