Social Media Crisis Management: It’s All About How You Respond

24 Apr

Social Media dramas involving organisations seem to be more and more common in recent times, and they are good reminders of the importance of having a solid social media crisis management plan in place.

At its very basic level, the proper handling of a social media crisis should consist of two things: A quick response, and a proper response.

Let’s look at both areas:

1. Responding quickly to a social media crisis

If you look back at many of the social media dramas that have played out for companies over the past couple of years, many of them were exacerbated by a slow response from the company or organisation. The delay in responding meant the people that were upset had more time to voice their displeasure with the company, to other people, which raised further awareness of the problem, and made it far worse.  An example of a company who one of the first companies to have suffered from this in the social media world was Motrin.

This was a situation which had the could have been defused very quickly, if Motrin and their agency had been proactive in responding to complaints on Twitter about one of its adverts. But since the crisis occurred on the weekend, when the brand and agency weren’t monitoring Twitter, it was allowed to grow and fester.  By Sunday, most people were complaining more about Motrin’s lack of a response, than they were about the commercial itself.

So you can’t respond quickly, unless you know what you are responding to. That means you need to aggressively monitor your brand’s online mentions. There’s no excuse for any company that conducts business online, to not monitor online mentions. Even if you are a small company with a limited budget, there are still free tools you can use like Google Alerts to monitor. If you are a mid-sized to larger company, you should seriously consider investing in a premium monitoring suite that will track not only mentions, but trends and sentiment as well. But the point is to know what is being said online about your company or organization.

So now that you are monitoring online mentions, then you can see what is being said about your brand in (more or less) real-time. This also means that when a situation arises that needs to be addressed, that you can quickly assess the situation and formulate a response. We’ll talk more about the tone of your response in a second, but another key benefit of monitoring is that it tells you WHERE you need to respond. If there is a potential crisis developing on Twitter, then that’s where you need to respond. If it’s on a single messageboard or forum, then you need to find a way to respond there.  The point is, you need to go to the source of the complaints, and interact with people there.

2. Responding properly to a social media crisis

So if you have identified a potential issue that you need to address, how should you respond?  Here are 5 common sense tips for handling complaints or negative online feedback:

If someone is leaving negative comments about your company, respond!  Even if they are intentionally attacking your company (or ‘trolling’), then invite them to please contact you directly so you can help them with their issues. And remember, if someone is leaving comments that personally attack your employees or customers, or that contain profanity or inflammatory language, you should delete them.  Now if they are simply saying that they think your company sucks, deleting these types of comments will tend to draw more of the same.  People can see when someone has crossed the line with the tone of their comments, and they won’t fault a blogging company for deleting comments in this case.

Be thankful and polite  Nothing escalates a negative comment into a full-blown spat faster than an ‘Oh yeah?!?’ response from the company.  You have to always remember that the person commenting thinks their complaint is warranted.  And many times, they are right.

If you are in the wrong, then apologize  And mean it.  The two most magical words in putting out a social media crisis are ‘We’re sorry’.

If commenters are jumping to the wrong conclusion about your company, kindly correct them with the proper information  Just as you don’t have to accept profanity or attacking comments on your blog, you shouldn’t feel that you have to accept if a blogger or commenter is posting inaccurate information on another site.  But again, remember to correct the misinformation with a respectful tone.

Thank them for their feedback  and encourage them to provide more. Leave your email address so they can contact you off the blog, if they choose.  This communicates to everyone that you WANT engagement and want to communicate with them.

Even if you respond quickly and appropriately, you still have to fix the problem. People are upset for a reason, and you still need to address that reason, and correct the problem. It might not be a quick fix, but you need to let people know how you are handling the issue, and what steps will be taken to correct the problem. This is where you can use your social media presences such a blog or Facebook page to communicate to customers and supporters what your plan is for handling the crisis.  But you need to have a plan, you need to communicate that plan (not every detail, obviously), then you need to execute it.

EXAMPLE: An example of a company which successfully followed all of the above rules was Fed-Ex, who responded to a customer’s viral video, with their own video.

This scenario involves a Fed-Ex customer who had a horrible experience with a delivery. A computer monitor was delivered by the Fed-Ex driver who casually thrown the monitor over the customer’s gate, even though the customer was at home, and the front door was wide open! The customer filmed the delivery, and he posted it on YouTube.


The video has been viewed almost 9 million times, and has been featured on a number of TV shows. Now if this was your company, would you respond? And if so, then how would you respond?

To its credit, Fed-Ex responded 2 days later with its own video.


Here’s what was so great about the video and the post on Fed-Ex’s blog:

  1. Fed-Ex admitted the problem and apologized for it immediately in the video.
  2. Fed-Ex detailed what was done to correct this problem.
  3. Fed-Ex detailed what will happen moving forward.
  4. Fed-Ex responded to the customer video with its own video.  Using the same tool as its customer.

There is a very significant lesson here for companies about using social media:

Participating in a conversation changes that conversation!

By creating a video response to the customer video, apologising, and detailing exactly how the problem would be fixed, Fed-Ex changed the conversation that was currently happening around its brand.  Prior to this video, the conversation around the brand was decidedly negative and dominated by the customer’s video, because Fed-Ex hadn’t responded.

When they did, the conversation changed.  The company’s response was fast and appropriate, and that not only changed the opinion of the company from some observers, but it also served as motivation for customers and employees to come to defense of the brand.

Always remember this:  Social Media backlashes aren’t created by the initial trigger event (such as the customer’s video above), they are created by HOW the company responds.

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One Response to “Social Media Crisis Management: It’s All About How You Respond”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Handling Negative Comments | Crisis Management - May 15, 2012

    […] that are out to catch their jollies by provoking a rise out of you. The following quote, from a Social Axis blog post, holds some solid advice to get you on your […]

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