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5 Steps to Responding to a Social Media Catastrophe

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Social media is a fickle world, and popularity isn’t always a positive quality. No matter how careful you are or how dutifully you nurture positive responses amongst your followers, eventually, you will face some form of negative backlash. It could be something as simple as an angry review, or something as catastrophic as a campaign against you. If you have a big enough audience, eventually something bad can happen, and when it does, it pays to be prepared.

In any social media campaign, the measure of a company is not whether something negative ever arises; instead, it is how that company responds to something negative when it arises. The way you respond to a social media catastrophe can either neutralize the threat immediately and win new customers, or turn a simple situation into a complicated, far-reaching one.

Proactive Measures

The first and most important principle to understand in the context of social media catastrophes is that most catastrophes are preventable. Rather than waiting for a calamity to respond to, it’s better to take proactive measures to mitigating the frequency and scope of those calamities. You’ll never be able to prevent everything bad from happening in your social presence, but you can reduce the damage by taking a handful of simple precautions:

  • Check your profiles often. Disasters get worse if you leave them unattended. Establish a system that allows your company to check in on your social media profiles on a regular basis, even during off hours. Neglecting your profiles could lead to a small misunderstanding ballooning into a real catastrophe.
  • Proofread everything.Take the extra time to proofread every post you make, and carefully review your planned campaigns for any possible misunderstandings. In contests, clarify your wording. In hashtags, look for possible alternative interpretations. Do everything you can to catch mistakes and prepare for possible misunderstandings.
  • Ask for feedback. Openly invite your users to share their opinions with you on social media—about your brand and about your products and services. Doing so will allow constructive criticism in a contained format, and could prevent angrier, less predictable storms of negativity from arising in the future.
  • Have a plan. Orchestrate your social media management by delegating responsibilities with clear parties and instructions. Make plans for how to handle different types of comments, and how to escalate a situation to a higher response level.

With these proactive steps in place, you can successfully avoid some—but not all—social media disasters. Here’s how to handle them when they do come up.         

Step One: Understand


Relax. When you see an inflammatory comment, a series of negative posts, or something else that compromises the reputation of your company, the first step is to take a moment to understand exactly what’s happening. Dissect each comment, post, or response, and try to analyze the root of the problem.

Sometimes, that problem will be internal; an inappropriate post or a mishandling of information could easily turn into a public issue. These problems are usually easy to understand, and relatively easy to correct.

Other times, the problem will be external; a customer could be openly complaining about your company, manipulating information that you’ve posted, or inciting others to lead a charge against your brand in some way. These issues tend to be more complex and harder to pinpoint—for example, if a customer makes a post on your Facebook page that says “This company is no good. Will not do business with them again,” it’s difficult to tell exactly what prompted the post in the first place.

No matter the nature of the problem, make sure you understand it as thoroughly as possible before moving on.

Step Two: Respond


Responses are powerful because people always like to know they’re being heard. Ignoring a problem on social media will only make that problem worse. The individual who posted the negative material will grow restless and angrier, and others might see that you have taken no steps to resolve the issue, leaving them with a negative impression of your brand.

Your response doesn’t have to do anything immediately; it can be a simple acknowledgement of the problem, or a request to get more information. But it does have to be sincere and personal. Simply telling a customer on social media to fill out a form on your website or call a customer service number is not enough. If you’re dealing with negative comments, let the person know that you hear his/her complaint, and that you take it seriously. Sometimes, this alone can redeem your brand and set you on the right path for resolution.

Step Three: Apologize and/or Explain


Next, you need to offer some level of justification or restitution. If a person has a problem, they have either been mistreated, misinformed, or they have misunderstood your company’s policies. No matter the case, it’s important to back up your response (either immediately or as a part of the conversation) with either an apology or an explanation.

Keep this level of response public, so others can see that your brand cares enough to offer a sincere level of support. An apology will let your customer know that you didn’t mean for the situation to happen. An explanation will help him/her understand your company policies and procedures—even if he/she isn’t satisfied with the explanation, other followers will see the explanation and you’ll have a better chance of preventing something similar coming up in the future.

Step Four: Offer to Make It Better

This step is flexible, based on your company’s direction in customer issue resolution. Once you’ve apologized or explained your company’s stance, you can do what you can to make it up to the individual who feels angry or wronged. You can’t always redeem yourself in the offended follower’s eyes, but by making a public offer of restitution, you can earn a better public reputation and improve your standing.

If the customer is unsatisfied with a product or service, you can offer a refund, discount, or replacement. If the customer is unhappy with your brand in general, ask them what you can do to make things better for the future. As an extension of step one, you have to understand why your customer is upset before you determine how to make it better. That level of personal engagement can only be beneficial in the long term.

Step Five: Follow Up on Your Offer

Finally, you have to follow up with your offer, provided the follower accepts. If you offer a replacement product, send them the product immediately along with the shipping information. If your offer is less tangible, such as a change to a company policy, make a public announcement when the change is complete. If you don’t follow up on your offer, you’ll be asking for a return customer or future complaints—and this time, they’ll probably be angrier.

Don’t fear social media disasters. Treat them as learning opportunities. If your followers are reacting negatively to something, odds are they’re sharing their honest opinions. If you listen to them and do everything you can to make the situation better, you can either win that customer’s loyalty again or learn how to prevent the situation in the future.


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Nick Wilson

Nick is AudienceBloom's publication wizard. He works his magic to perform outreach for external content marketing campaigns.

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