How to handle a social media crisis

Ashanti Akabusi, Director at  VirtuBrands
Ashanti Akabusi, Director at VirtuBrands

Social media is a delight when it amplifies your business good news stories, but what about when the feedback isn’t what you want to hear? News of a company crisis can spread like wildfire and social media is petrol to the flames.

Every case is different and there are always many specific factors to take into account but it’s important to have plans in place in case the terrible day dawns and you’re making the wrong kind of online headlines. Here are some of the golden rules for what to do if the worst does happen, or better still, how to prevent it happening altogether.

Create a social media strategy and policy

Many crises happen when an employee posts something they shouldn’t. All your staff with access to company profiles need to have a clear idea of what they are and are not permitted to talk about. Create a social media strategy that outlines the who, what, where, when and how of your company’s branded channels. This should cover comments on everything including privacy, tone of voice, visual branding and particularly anything they might be tempted to say on your company’s behalf regarding social and political issues.

Use social media as a listening tool

With intelligent listening you can gain valuable insights into how consumers feel about your brand. Keeping an eye on what people say about your business is an excellent way to monitor your performance in other people’s eyes. If you notice significant numbers of comments describing poor customer service for example, you can take action before the problem gets out of hand. It’s always better to avoid a potential problem by identifying it in advance.

Establish a crisis communications plan

If something does go wrong it’s important to know who is going to do what to deal with it and when. Having a robust crisis management plan is one way to stay ahead of the game. How will you communicate internally? What is the approval process for statements? This will save valuable time when a crisis hits allowing you to act and resolve the situation more quickly.

Be clear about what constitutes a social media crisis

Not every comment on your brand is going to be complimentary. There’s no need to go into full-blown crisis mode every time someone says something negative on Facebook. Customer service can deal with these problems. However, when one or two quibbles become a flood having a long-term impact on your business you must act. You need to decide in advance where that tipping point is for you.

Pause your scheduled posts

A scheduled post going live during a crisis can make you look silly or insensitive. Take a break to resolve the situation before resuming your social media content plan.

Engage but don’t argue

Think before you act. It’s easy to respond to customer criticism immediately either by rolling over or sounding defiant. Listen to your critics and get to the real heart of the problem before you react. Keep your answers short and crystal clear. Where possible, move the conversation out of the public eye through direct messaging, email or phone. Doing this will also make the customer feel like you’re treating them seriously and respectfully.

Do be human. Do apologise.

Deleting the tweets and ignoring the backlash doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Your customers want to hear from you, and it’s important to acknowledge mistakes as quickly as possible. Be human, and once the initial response has gone out recognise that it doesn’t end there. Let your customers know you’re making changes and consider additional communications like a video from your CEO, a press release or an official statement to let people know how to get in touch if they need.

Remember; a crisis well-handled can end up winning you more admiration than you started with.

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