How to Manage a Social Media Crisis

Keep doing anything in life long enough, and eventually something bad will happen. Drive long enough, and you’re sure to get in an accident, get a ticket or get a dent—or, if you’re really unlucky, all three at once. And the same holds true for having your business on social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat or any other channel, your company has (or should have) a presence on at least one of these. That means that, sooner or later, you’re going to have a social media crisis.

This situation can take many forms. You might have blown a free celebrity mention, as Red Lobster recently did after Beyonce name-checked them in her latest song. You could have tried to make a joke that fell as flat as an IHOP pancake. (See what I did there?) Or maybe you tried your hand at creating a hashtag only to see it hijacked and turned into a repository for horror stories about high costs and bad service, as the social team behind Obamacare found out. Twice.

No matter how big or small, there are common strategies and tactics for dealing with a social media crisis.

1. Have a plan.

Just like insurance, the time to plan for an emergency is before you have one. Sketch out possible scenarios, and decide on plans of action when you actually have the time.

2. Don’t feed the trolls.

Your first reaction in any crisis should always be to stop and take a breath. Survey the landscape, and try to figure out just how bad things truly are. In most cases, what business owners consider a crisis is actually nothing to worry about, but acting on it could make things worse. Getting some negative comments online? Most times, if you ignore them, they’ll die down. Respond to them and now you’ve started a flame war that you’ll always lose.

3. Make a joke.

If you’ve decided your crisis isn’t that serious after all but still warrants a response, a little humor—especially if it’s self-deprecating—can go a long way toward defusing a situation.

4. Apologize. Fast.

If something actually has gone wrong, admit it and admit it right away—even when it’s not your fault. Let people know you’re working on a solution, and as soon as you have one, you will let them know. Not only is this the right thing to do, it also puts you out ahead of the story and gives you some control. But, the longer you take to say you’re sorry, the more false it will sound.

5. Be transparent.

Mistakes happen, and unforeseen events can upset the best plans. People generally understand this and accept apologies. What people won’t accept are cover-ups. Be as honest and open as possible, particularly with the press, when telling your side of the story. If you’re unclear how something happened, then make that part of your message.

6. If possible, make it right.

Keeping in mind that you’re dealing with not just your current customers but every future customer you’ll ever have, try to make people whole when possible. Full or partial refunds, offers of free meals or drinks, making a charitable donation … any sort of gesture can go a long way toward soothing sore feelings.

7. Don’t do it again.

Change your in-house processes and policies to ensure this particular crisis never happens again, and as much as you can, let your public know the steps you’ve taken. People have lost faith in you, and you need to work hard to regain that trust.

Once everything has died down and returned to normal, gauge how well you and your company performed. Be sure to initiate any changes you’d like made right away, because it’s only a matter of time before the next crisis comes along.