How to Prevent a Social Media Crisis

By Jonas Sickler

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It’s understandable why small business owners are easily seduced by the power of social media. It’s one of the few forms of marketing that doesn’t require a massive capital investment or a college degree to make work. There’s also the lure of viral content capable of driving traffic and revenue to your company. But the promise of great success comes with a caveat: careless mistakes can create a public relations crisis.

How Social Media Crises Start

With 2.46 billion active social users currently sharing their opinions each year, some conflict and misunderstanding are to be expected. Usually, an uproar is caused by a simple mistake that could have been avoided with a little bit of oversight. Maybe your social media manager pulled a Ted Cruz and accidentally “liked” or shared an inappropriate post on your timeline. Perhaps an angry customer with an unresolved issue went on a Twitter rant, or a stressed-out employee posted something unprofessional.

Errors aren’t the only catalysts for catastrophe. Large corporate accounts have been hacked on more than one occasion, resulting in embarrassing, and sometimes hilarious, official posts. These situations are out of a brand’s control and slightly easier to recover from than preventable mistakes.

Vegas rules definitely don’t apply on the Internet. Deleting an offensive post may seem like the obvious solution, but there are multiple reasons why this won’t work. Anyone can take a screenshot of your content and share it before you’ve had a chance to correct the error. The more cringeworthy your mistake, the more likely it will become the next viral meme. If you’ve really dropped the ball, your fumble could be picked up and perpetuated by the mainstream media.

It’s natural to want to purge an unpleasant post from your social feed, but deleting the complaint may ratchet up the anger level by adding insult to injury. Your customer could share screenshots of their posts to prove that you’re censoring criticism and this could lead followers to doubt the transparency of your brand.

How well you prepare your team to handle negative feedback will determine whether or not a social media incident becomes a full-blown crisis.

Preventing a Social Media Crisis

#1: Put the Right Person in Charge

Be careful who gets the keys to your social media accounts. Allowing inexperienced employees, fresh interns, or someone with the wrong personality type to run your social accounts can cause serious problems. Hire a social media manager who thinks before acting, can accept criticism, and has some public relations experience. Qualified candidates must also be able to handle the pressure of a crisis. Definitely keep those who are impulsive, quick to anger, or sarcastic away from your social media accounts.

If you don’t want to deal with managing your social media in-house, there are plenty of companies willing to do it for you if you have room in your budget.

#2: Prepare for a Crisis

A surefire way to worsen a bad situation is by failing to prepare for it. There’s no way to predict each and every crisis, but you should at least develop a plan that includes training for your social media team. Your plan should dictate roles and responsibilities, including who is in charge of posting updates and replying to follower comments.

It’s essential to always include a backup person when assigning duties because one employee may not be able to handle all of your accounts when things heat up, or may not be available during the emergency. All social media team members should have some training in crisis management. Should a situation ever arise, that time and money will be well spent.

#3: Watch for Icebergs

Keep an eye out for brand and competitor mentions so you can spot icebergs before they sink your company’s online reputation. If you really pay attention, you may be able to identify future problems from passive aggressive posts. For example, several tepid tweets might be the tip of a customer service iceberg looming in the distance.

#4: Be Engaged

Social profiles aren’t just sales tools. If used properly, they can be a valuable barometer to help you measure customer experience and correct imperfections. Listen to your followers, run surveys, ask them questions and engage them in discussions. Letting customer complaints fester because you aren’t paying attention is just as bad as intentionally ignoring them in the hopes they’ll go away. A speedy response to criticism can stop situations from escalating and prevent similar missteps in the future.

#5: Respond to Criticism Professionally

Handling criticism professionally is essential to converting a negative brand experience into a positive one and protecting your reputation. You aren’t just talking to one person, you’re addressing all of your followers when you respond to negative feedback.

Customers typically use social media as a last resort to lash out at a business when they feel their issue is unresolved. Deleting comments, arguing, or blocking users will often end badly. When handling criticism, be professional, empathetic, and make an effort to understand what caused the problem in the first place. If you provide your customers with an easy method to contact you and voice their frustrations, you may prevent them from attacking you in the public arena.

#6: Know Your Audience

Is your social media audience different from your customer profile? Spend some time researching your followers and demographics to avoid unintentionally insulting them by using the wrong tone, an inappropriate image, or an out-of-context statement. This is particularly important if you have a massive follower count that spans a wide demographic spectrum.

#7: Circulate an Employee Social Media Policy

Employees often think they’re safe to vent about workplace disagreements and office tomfoolery on their private social accounts if they aren’t connected with anyone from work. However, their critical post could end up in front of a customer or even members of the media. Posts mentioning your business will also appear in searches on social networks. Rather than telling your employees not to mention your company on social media, encourage them to open up about their jobs but offer some guidance about what’s appropriate.

Don’t Fear Failure

Businesses shouldn’t be intimidated to use social media. Intelligently using social platforms to connect and engage with your customers has far more benefits than drawbacks. If you listen to your followers, react quickly and compassionately when needed, and develop an emergency plan if something does go wrong, you’ll be able to maximize the benefits of this channel while avoiding a potential crisis.

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