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How to respond to, and survive, a social media crisis

How to Respond to a Crisis on Social Media

No one wants to be on the receiving end of a bad review or customer complaint. But thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever for dissatisfied customers to make their voices heard.

You needn’t look far to find examples of social media crises. Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal gained a tremendous amount of momentum when VW owners started posting on social media. Word of Chipotle’s problems with food contamination spread like wildfire when it hit Twitter. Every day, tens of thousands of upset customers make their way to social media to share their opinions and try to resolve complaints. And sometimes, those complaints go viral.

So: what should you do if you find yourself in the middle of a social media crisis?

Act quickly. The only thing worse than taking days to respond to a complaint on social media is not responding at all. Customers expect responses quickly—within hours—so monitor 24/7 to stay ahead of the conversation. If you don’t know exactly how you’re going to resolve the issue, let the person know that you’ve heard their complaint and are working to solve it. That acknowledges their problem and gives you more time to come up with a more permanent solution.

Describe how you’re fixing the problem

A general overview will suffice: “John, sorry to hear about your problem with our software. We’re working with our developers to figure out the source of your issue and will be back with an answer shortly.” Again, you’re showing the customer that their complaint has been heard and you’re working to fix it.

But don’t make promises you can’t keep

The above advice only holds true if you’re actually working to solve the issue. Don’t say you’re working on it if you aren’t, and don’t be unrealistic. Don’t promise to send your customer a replacement phone unless you’re actually capable of sending them one. Being transparent is best, and you only serve to make your reputation worse if you can’t back up your words with actions.

Fix the issue

Yes, this is frustrating, and yes, it will probably cost you money. Still, unless the customer is being unreasonable (which happens sometimes), part of good customer service means biting the bullet and fixing the problem despite an additional cost.

Take it offline when possible

Don’t let customers continue to air their dirty laundry with your company in public if you can avoid it. Respond in public asking the user to direct message you, or forward them to an email or phone number and give specific instructions about what they can expect. A complaint followed up with a public response asking to follow-up in private shows future passers-by you worked to resolve the issue, and allows you to regain control of the conversation.

Let it all blow over

This option should remain off the table in all but the worst situations (think Volkswagen’s emissions scandal), but sometimes, the best thing you can do is sit back and take the beating. Time heals most wounds, even if it’s uncomfortable to sit around and watch your brand get dragged through the dirt. In cases of extreme crisis, you’ll likely need more than a social media comment or campaign to regain trust anyway.

Create a plan so you’re prepared if this happens again

So you’ve successfully responded to this small crisis. The best thing you can do is take steps to ensure you’re more prepared the next time it happens. That’s not an if, it’s a when. Designate an individual to be in charge of responses to negative comments. Draft a few responses in advance. Set up a customer support system to solve problems quickly should they arise. Monitor regularly to spot negative comments before they gain much traction. All of these things are easy steps you can take to make it easier on yourself and your company the next time you have to deal with a similar situation.

Although this is little consolation if you find yourself scrambling to respond to a negative comment on social media, the best thing you can do to avoid transforming your one-off comment into a full-blown social media crisis is prepare. Having a plan in place before you have to respond to an unhappy customer will make it clear what needs to be done. The more quickly you’re able to respond, the better the chance you’ll have of staying in front of the issue.

Sooner or later, you’re bound to run into an unhappy customer on social media. It happens. Unfortunately, there’s no absolute way to guarantee that you’ll never find yourself in the middle of a social media crisis. That said, it’s important to have a plan in place because, as is usually the case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Author | John Darwin

John Darwin
John Darwin is Managing Editor at Social Media Contractors, a social media and content marketing firm located in Omaha, Nebraska (United States). He grew attracted to writing and editing during his extensive research work with John Milton's Paradise Lost. His attention to detail and love of language drive him... More