Don’t panic. That distinctly average drawing of mine above is not an instruction, I merely hoped it would grab your attention. When the s*** hits the social media fan, and what seems like the whole of the world is tearing you to pixelated shreds, the urge can be to panic and start tweeting, facebooking and instapinningvining in the hope that being merely responsive is enough to calm the angry crowds. I urge you to breathe and do the following things first:

1 – Speak to everybody within your business that needs to know that this crisis is in motion. Explain to them clearly what sparked it and to what scale the negativity is currently sitting at.

2 – Agree what can be done to offer a solution. Is the crisis due to a product malfunctioning? Are you a food supplier and someone has gotten sick after eating your product? Can you replace that product and put things right in the customers eyes? Will your food be recalled and the ‘victim’ compensated? Know your plan of action before you engage with the social media flamers. You need to sort the issue with the person (or persons) that sparked the crisis. Those that have jumped on the bandwagon are secondary. Be very, very sure that you know what the solution is before you start to respond online.

3 – Decide who is going to take ownership of the situation within social media, but also who will ensure the solution is implemented and followed-up on. Ideally, one person would lead both of these actions, with somebody else being very much up to speed on progress.

Now, it goes without saying that you don’t want those three steps to take an age! Make this happen as quickly as you possibly can. Before you carry out these steps, it is often wise to issue a ‘placeholder’ via social media – ‘We are aware of this situation and will be responding with further information shortly’. This acknowledges that there is some kind of issue, buys you some time and doesn’t admit fault – you don’t want to do that until you know you are in the wrong – of course there are times when it is clearly the case that your business is in the wrong, but if there is any doubt over this, think twice about apologising before any investigation has taken place.

Image used under CC and via wwarby on Flickr

Image used under CC and via wwarby on Flickr

What’s Next?

Now it is time to take the social web. You must go directly to the source of the issue (your customer etc) and open up dialogue with them. In an ideal world, this will take place privately, but that is down to the complainer – ask if you can take the conversation to email , or even phone. Gather as much factual information as possible. If you can offer and agree a solution with that person early on in the process, then great, but don’t jump the gun. If you need to take the information they’ve supplied you with and discuss it with others, then explain that’s what you need to do and that you’ll come back to them shortly.

If the issue was solved during that call/email etc, then you should make a statement via social media that you have spoken with the customer and have agreed a satisfactory solution. If you were in the wrong, publicly apologise. In the event that this issue is likely to lead to further actions, perhaps a recall, explain that too. If it’s the case that further investigation is required, state that you have been in touch with the customer and that you’ll be working hard to ensure a satisfactory conclusion is met. Once you have agreed the solution with the customer, ask them if they would be willing to state this via social media. Don’t push it though!

Own It

The following is a key tip. Don’t leave this all out there in the social media platforms. You should have an area of your official site (ideally a blog, or a news section), that you can create responses to issues such as this. Write a post that explains what happened and what you did to fix it. You own that space, you don’t own your social media platforms. This also has SEO advantages for future searches related to the issue. I mentioned ‘flamers’ earlier, you know, those who jumped on the bandwagon and were ‘outraged’ at the issue that the ‘victim’ had experienced. They help to fuel the flames, and of course some of them may be customers (or prospective customers), you can’t ignore them, however, I believe that you do not have to respond to them all either, often, there isn’t enough time in the world to do this and it can lead to convoluted back and forths that achieve little. Use the explanation that you’ve created on your blog/news section as somewhere to point the masses to. Being seen to have been truly helpful is half the battle.That, and an honest approach will serve you well.

I hope that is a help. Social media is an incredible tool, especially when things are going well, but mistakes do happen with many businesses, and knowing how to handle social media fallout and the ensuing online crisis is essential. You really need to have a plan in place, don’t get caught out! 

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Mike McGrail

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