All businesses hope to avoid it, but sometimes it happens: a social media crisis arises on one of your platforms. Now it’s time for you to put out the fire. While there is no one way to handle every online dispute, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the situation while minimizing damage to your brand, and also preventing similar occurrences in the future.

Be Calm and Transparent

Although it's only natural to feel personally attacked when someone posts something negative about your business, it is important for your brand's health that you remain consistently respectful. Sending out an angry response will only add fuel to the fire and possibly attract more negative attention from others. Keep in mind that what is said on the internet publicly will be saved and seen by all. Feel free to acknowledge a problem if you are responding, but do not get into an argument with someone who may be trying to bait you. Stop and consider how you'd want a customer with no previous knowledge of your brand to read how you handled the situation before you respond. Consumers may read a negative back-and-forth interaction and see you as being the at-fault party, even if this isn't the case.

With this, it is important to handle the situation and present a calculated response as quickly as possible with complete honesty. We don’t recommend sharing every minute detail with your online followers when responding; the information you do share should be straightforward and truthful. Don't use tricks or “techniques” – consumers tend to have a good read on what feels right and what feels deceptive.

Manage Internal Communication

Letting your employees know about the situation at hand may prevent the possibility of making a bad situation worse. Making sure everyone is on the same page will ensure you keep your messaging consistent if observers start asking questions. Remember, in the midst of a crisis, all eyes will be on your next moves – including those within your company. Training everyone on how a situation should be handled, as well as how it can continue to be handled by them, will keep your company and everyone in it secure in your approach. Keep screenshots of situations that were solved effectively and share them with employees who will be working the social media front lines. These can be teachable or trainable moments to help reinforce your brand's “voice” on social media.

Pause Any Scheduled Posts

Handling a developing situation should become the first priority in any crisis scenario. Consider ceasing or pausing scheduled posts during a crisis, unless they are relevant to the moment at hand. Group employees that would have been developing regular social media posts to work out how best to respond. It may not be the best look to continue posting about daily specials while a crisis is ongoing. Consumers may perceive your brand as being insincere or tone deaf, and this could hurt your future prospects.

Have A Plan Going Forward

After a crisis situation has been successfully handled, it’s normal to not want to be in that situation again. Unfortunately, this isn't a realistic expectation in today's business world, where virtual storefronts are available 24/7 and consumer expectations are at an all-time high. While you cannot guarantee that an online crisis will never affect your business again, there are a few simple steps you can take to minimize the chances of a similar recurrence, as well as a plan for better handling of a crisis next time.

Create a Social Media Policy

Policies can be your guiding light in times of trouble. When it's hard to think clearly, policies can remind you what's important and what needs to happen at what time. A social media policy as part of your digital strategy can contain guidance in areas like the type of posts that are appropriate for your brand's social media channels, how you want employees to respond (or not respond) to negative feedback online, what to do when a situation is growing out of hand or becoming abusive, and company expectations for employee social media presence or behaviors. A social media policy will keep employees on the same page when it comes to expectations about representing your brand. This, in turn, minimizes the chances of something being improperly posted.

Intercept Situations Before They Arise

Sometimes there are subtle warning signs that a problem is about to arise before it occurs. Always pay attention to the tone of your followers’ responses when you post. Subtle changes can signify a switch in attitude toward your brand. Catching this early will allow you to change your messaging before a crisis emerges. Consider taking a free online course in human communication, or look up examples of other large-scale social media fallouts from other businesses in the news. Look at the customer's initial posts: would you have been able to intercept and handle the issue before it got out of hand? This can be a starting point for creating a response plan.

Have a Detailed Plan

A better-prepared company is one that will have the most success when a time of crisis comes. It seems obvious, but don't wait until a crisis arises before deciding it is time to make a plan. In fact, according to the ODM Strategic Communications Group, only about 54% of companies in America have a crisis communication plan in place. By preparing in advance, you can give your business the upper hand in effectively shutting down a crisis before it gains steam. The plan should include a few detailed topics, such as:

  • How you will let everyone in the company know what has happened? Remember, all eyes internally will be on you as the leader.
  • Who will craft messaging on social media letting your followers know what has happened? What should those messages should look like? Consider how much information you will provide about an order or internal company procedures publicly in response.
  • What will you say to news outlets, if necessary? Who will represent the company to the press? What guidance will they be given in terms of what to say about a situation?
  • What every person and department is responsible for in the midst of the crisis.

With the rapidly changing digital landscape, the thought of trying to manage an online crisis can seem daunting. However, with careful preparation and clear communication, handling this type of situation can be done effectively, allowing you to go back to business. After a crisis situation has been successfully handled, be sure take a break. Go for a walk. Encourage your team to do the same. These situations are stressful and emotional, even for those with the best preparations.