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What To Do In A Social Media Crisis

By Julie Neidlinger on January 28, 2013 in News.

social media trolls

Does the possibility of a social media crisis have you on edge?

There is no optimal social media crisis.

They happen when we’re least expecting it because really — when are you expecting one? They happen late on a Friday night when no one is manning the feeds. They happen on a Monday morning when everyone is frantically trying to get set for the coming week. They happen on a Wednesday over lunch hour. They happen when our network goes down and we’re already swamped and in a panic trying to get everything working and barely have time to deal with the angry customers. They happen any time at all.

There is no optimal social media crisis. There are, however, optimized social media crises.

An optimized social media crisis, quite simply put, is one that is handled well and made into a positive instead of fumbled and turned into an even bigger PR nightmare that it started out as. That’s your goal.

What To Do: Your Foundation

Your response to a crisis, no matter what it is and who it involves, will always require the following foundation:

  • You must listen. Build a culture of being willing to listen, both within your team, and towards your customers. Each person is different and unique. Listen to what each is saying.
  • You must have a plan. This is a plan that your whole team understands, uses, and can stand behind. It’s not a script of replies, but a plan on who does what and how and when. It deals with logistics, tone, and it empowers your team to offer coupons, money back, swag, or service without having to delay a reply to get permission from a manager.
  • You must have support from within. Make sure you have the staff to help you with follow-through. If you promise to resolve an issue for a customer, and hand it off to a different team to deal with the specific request, they must be able to do it. You’re the person the customer is dealing with. Even if you handle the communication great and your “job” is done, you’ll still be on the receiving end of customer frustration if others in your organization don’t follow through with what needs to be resolved.
  • You must have support from the top. Everything has to have support from the top of your organization all the way to the bottom. Those “at the top” must support the efforts of the team that is, essentially, on the front lines with the customers. If you want personal responses, the team has to know that they are encouraged and given permission to do so from those at the top, or they will not be confident and revert to a stiff, safe business tone.

That sounds like a reasonable, predictable list, doesn’t it? What does that even mean? What do you do with it in the moment it’s all happening?

What To Remember: They Are People

A Social Media Crisis sounds terrifying, but what it really is, is people, of which you are one. Here are a couple of truths:

  1. Some people are only interested in being angry, insulting trolls. (You can’t placate them.)
  2. Some people are genuinely angry or upset over an issue, but are open to accepting an apology. (You can fix it.)
  3. Some people are genuinely angry or upset over an issue, and want more than just an apology. (You might be able to fix it, but it will take more than just one “I’m sorry”.)
  4. Some people are quick to forgive and become your cheerleader if you handle things well. (An unofficial PR team.)
  5. Some people are point out the issue but are made happy just to get a response back of any sort. (They just want to know someone is listening.)
  6. No people are interested in being told their feelings or assessment of the situation are wrong. (Being defensive will make the crisis explode.)

Five different types of people require five different responses, i.e. you can’t churn out canned responses. You must respond directly to the individual according to what they’re indicating they want to hear.

A great example of this can be seen in the story of O2, a company that experienced huge network failures in July, 2012. According to an article in Wired, O2 turned a very ugly situation around with a masterful use of Twitter. O2′s team responded to people according to how the people had responded to them on Twitter when the outage happened. Some required a direct response, some a personal conversation, some a restrained but humorous response (trolls) — the team responded according to the customer, not according to a pre-crisis prepared response.

The customer tells us what response is needed in how they communicate their displeasure. O2 figured it out. They realized their response was important on two levels: to the customer (tailor it to their need) and to the watching world (had to even acknowledge — but not feed! — the trolls).

On both ends of social media lurk…real people.

This Is Just Too Complicated

There’s no shortage of helpful guides, books, tips, and lists on what to do in a social media crisis (this blog post included!). They pretty much all contain relevant information. In the moment, however, it comes down to the fact that you have to know how to deal with people as a person, and not as an official entity. When something you use quits working and you take to Twitter to complain, what response do you prefer hearing?

“We apologize. We’re experiencing difficulties. We’re working on it as quickly as we can.”

“@YourName, we’re sorry it’s not working. Keep us updated; we’ll do the same for you. We’ll fix this.”

 Just like any crisis in a real-life person-to-person relationship, a social media crisis is best handled personally with a response that is the appropriate foil for the conversation. If customers demand an apology, give them a sincere one. If they demand a response, give them a sincere one. If they demand some kind of resolution, give them one and follow through. And then, go one step further and surprise them by giving them one thing more.

Apologize. ‘Fess up when your organization made a mistake. Keep listening. Keep communication open. Resolve issues. Go one step further. And always work to tamp down high emotions with your responses. Fanning the flames is a no-no.

Do this, and you can optimize your social media crisis.

[Question "Have you ever dealt with a social media crisis? What did you do?"]