How to Handle a Social Media PR Disaster

how to handle a social media pr disasterSocial media is truly a two-edged sword: When used properly, it can yield massive dividends in terms of increasing customer loyalty and engagement, but one slight misstep can catapult your business into a whirlwind of controversy. We have all heard the horror stories of social media firestorms that came about as a result of a careless tweet (think of the infamous Chrysler tweet about Detroit drivers or Kenneth Cole’s Cairo tweet), each of which can provide us with a sobering reminder that on the Internet, reputations can literally be made or destroyed in seconds.

However the infraction may take place, it is absolutely critical for you to respond quickly and professionally to any social media crisis you may encounter. Below are four key strategies to implement immediately if you ever find yourself entangled in a social media controversy.

  1. Quick and decisive action, along with good communication, will be your best ally. Take time to identify exactly what happened and when, but not for the purpose of engaging in finger-pointing and playing the blame game. Your goal is simply to inform your team of what happened and also to address what solutions you will be implementing ASAP to fix it.
  2. Publicly acknowledge the wrong and apologize, and do it quickly. Use all of your available social media channels to issue a statement to your customers that you are aware of the situation, that you apologize and that you are working to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. Delegate these tasks to a point person who will be able to skillfully and sensitively assemble an official company statement about the issue. Depending upon the severity of the crisis, create a landing page with continual updates that your customers can view to stay informed of the status of the situation. Even if this means you have to post updates several times per hour, you must be willing to do so in order to preserve your company’s good reputation. You cannot afford to take a passive approach in these types of situations; you must be proactive and decisive at every turn.
  3. Respond to every single tweet or Facebook status update that is sent to you. This can definitely be a labor-intensive undertaking, but it must be done. Make sure that when you respond you do it respectfully and with professionalism. You may have to deal with quite a few people who will post hurtful or insulting things, but you will need to put your personal feelings aside and handle the matter in a calm, courteous and professional manner. Reiterate the steps that the company is taking to rectify the situation, but don’t post “copy-and-paste” responses to several different people – this will come across as cold and impersonal. Also make sure to shut off any automatic or scheduled marketing tweets during this time – you don’t want to appear aloof or detached from the issue. Above everything else, be honest about what happened. Try not to display any defensiveness, but instead empathize with your customers’ concerns.
  4. After the controversy dies down (which, believe it or not, will happen eventually), circle back and check up on the people who posted their concerns. Ask if there’s anything you can do for them, and let them know that you value their input as a customer. This will work wonders in terms of increasing customer loyalty, and it can garner new referrals for your business as well.

It has often been said that adversity will reveal the real character of a person, and the same can also be said of a business. How your company responds to social media backlash will reveal a lot about what your company stands for. You will be much more likely to leave a positive and lasting impression by maintaining your professionalism at all times.

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