Social media crisis management can be tricky for smaller businesses that don’t have the public relations budget of a larger company. Think about some of the most popular household name brands. Heinz… Adidas… Cinnabon… These are but a few companies that have had poorly handled social media faux pas. Incidents, by the way, that could have potentially sunk them if they hadn’t been large and well-established to start with.
With this new digital-first world we live in, your small business’s social media presence needs to be tended very carefully. If your brand has come under fire, deserved or not, your response makes the difference in whether or not your company survives it. Having a plan and knowing how to manage a crisis with grace and class is vital!
Stop A Crisis Before It Starts
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet
Keeping on top of major events in your industry or field is key here. When Adidas sent out a congratulatory email to people who finished the Boston Marathon in 2017 stating “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!” they most certainly didn’t intend it as a reference to the horrible tragedy that happened only four years prior.
However, they experienced severe backlash on social media because it was seen as thoughtless and insensitive, and rightfully so! If the person writing that email had paused and thought about it for a moment before pressing send, they could have avoided the PR nightmare that ensued. A huge part of social media crisis management is preventing the problem (or heading it off at the first sign) before it blows up!
Think Before You Post
Be careful about what you put out on the internet, no matter if it’s a blog, email, social media post, or any other form of public communication. Keeping an eye on what’s trending, hot-button issues and major happenings can help you avoid serious missteps like this for your company.
Listen To Your Tribe
You should be carefully watching the comments and reactions to things you do post. It can get ugly fast in the social media jungle! If you see the comments on your latest post take a negative turn, do not by any means react in kind.
Be polite and professional, and try to make it right. If it was something that is being perceived as wrong or insensitive on your part, take it down immediately and monitor the situation, and issue an apology if the tide continues to turn against you.
Go Beyond Your Own Circle
People who talk about your brand online are not always going to be in your immediate audience. If you never look beyond your own sphere of influence, you could miss the warning signs of an oncoming storm.
You can use social listening tools for this. Being able to monitor what people think of your brand beyond the direct engagement with your own content can be a huge plus for stopping a disaster in its tracks.
Dig In Your Heels When Necessary
Sometimes people will make false claims and stir up a fuss to try and get free products or discounts. There have even been cases where people have made up situations and sued companies to try and win a quick settlement. If you and your company truly have not done anything wrong, stand your ground.
A word of caution about this, make sure you have proof that the claim is false before you make your stand. Have something concrete (surveillance video, documentation, etc) to back up your side of the story.
Meet The Issue Head-On
The first instinct of many business owners dealing with social media crisis management is to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own. This tactic can actually do more damage than whatever caused the uproar to start with. Responding in a consistently positive and upbeat manner can help you stand in stark contrast to naysayers who are being downright rude on your feed.
- Be Real – If you are facing criticism because something you posted was taken the wrong way, apologize and explain. Make your apology heartfelt and authentic, and don’t try to shift blame.
- Be Transparent – If a customer has had a bad experience due to the way your business operates or a policy you have, openly share your plans to prevent similar incidents in the future.
- Be Sensitive – Remember the first rule of business, the customer always comes first. Respond to people sensitively and with understanding, no matter how rude or offensive they are being.
Your response to a situation says as much about your company’s values as anything else you can do.
Do You Have A Troll Problem?
“Don’t feed the trolls; nothing fuels them so much.” – Oscar Wilde
Internet trolls seek to stir up dissent and cause as much chaos as they can. Legitimate customers with legitimate problems are one thing, but there are people out there who will try to cause you problems for no reason whatsoever. A big part of your social media crisis management plan needs to be dealing with trolls.
Learn To Tell The Difference
There are certain telltale signs that you have a troll on your hands instead of someone who should be taken seriously.
- The worse their grammar, the more likely it is that they are a troll. People who actually want a solution to something (i.e. an irate customer) will make an effort to be clearly heard. People who are just spamming ridiculousness don’t care as much.
- If they start off with personal insults towards you or one of your employees.
- Often they’ll exaggerate, using extremes and superlatives (never, every, all the time, etc) to inflame situations.
- They act entitled, using ‘I’ and ‘me’ a lot. Trolls love nothing better than talking about themselves.
Diffuse The Situation
In an ideal world, we would be able to simply block every person who says anything negative. Since this is unfortunately not the case, taking the wind out of their sails is the next best option.
- Respond with facts. If they are making wild claims or accusations, respond calmly with cold, hard facts.
- Respond with humor. This is easier said than done, but if you have someone asking a ridiculous question to stir up trouble, responding with polite wit can put them in their place while scoring points with your audience.
- When all else fails, ignore them. If you don’t give them the satisfaction of a fight, they will typically move on.
Moving On After A Crisis
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” – Albert Einstein
After you have apologized, taken responsibility, corrected the situation, and made things right for anyone affected, it’s time to move on. When you handle PR disasters with grace and uphold your company’s values, people will lose interest in the negativity quickly.
There are many ways to change the subject and get back in the good graces of your customers. You can run a fun contest on social media, have a big sale, make a public donation to charity, introduce a new product, anything to get the conversation moving again. The whole point is to get people talking about something else.
Even when it seems like your darkest hour, remember that the sun will rise again tomorrow. Put on your armor, fight back the trolls, and keep the conversation moving forward!