Whether your business is big or small, there is the possibility that a misstep can lead to a social media backlash. You need to be prepared with a mitigation strategy before an emergency arises.
Every year we see a whole host of epic fails from companies attempting to manage their online reputations. These problems have varied points of origin, from a post that is poorly timed and ignorant of current events, to a campaign that is oblivious to its own cultural insensitivity. What most social media backlashes have in common is that the responsible companies either responded too slowly or inappropriately.
Here are 4 tips for handling a social media backlash, should you find yourself in the unfortunate position of going viral for all the wrong reasons.
1. The 5 Stages of Backlash
When someone posts a negative comment on your social profile, or if 1,000 people suddenly post negative comments, you have to fight the urge to delete the offending post and the reactions that follow. Just like the grieving process, you have to move beyond denial and into acceptance. The internet is unlike a playground in that there are no "take-backs."
Any attempt to pretend that the damaging content was never released will only fuel the backlash. And any visitors whose comments are also deleted will feel their voices are being silenced. Any attempt at recovering those customers will be difficult, if not impossible, after you have literally erased them.
2. All Apologies
You have to immediately and sincerely acknowledge your behavior and the impact it has had on those who have complained. An example of this being done poorly is when United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from an overbooked flight. Video of the violent and upsetting incident spread across the internet like wildfire, and when United's CEO finally responded he stated: "I apologize for having to re-accomodate these passengers." This statement did not ring true for many observers and only hastened the backlash and accompanying drop in United's stock price.
Don't use business jargon. Don't hedge. Take responsibility for the cause of the backlash, and even if you don't have a plan in place yet, pledge your dedication to correcting the situation in a timely manner.
3. Get It Moving
If you are dealing with a specific customer's issue, attempt to move the conversation offline. Tone and intent are often lost in electronic communication, and people are more likely to act in a civilized manner when they are face-to-face or even over the phone. When a manager or owner reaches out personally to a customer, this increases the odds that you will actually be able to transform a dissatisfied person back into a loyal brand advocate.
If you successfully move a problematic conversation offline, consider sharing a limited amount of detail with the larger community. For example, "We have reached out to 'Customer X' and are currently working to resolve their complaint. Thank you all for your concern, and we look forward to continuing to improve our customer service."
Whatever response you craft, it should be sincere, it should capture the voice of your brand, and it should maintain the affected customer's confidentiality.
Confidentiality is mandatory in some industries, like the medical field where even if a person has posted a libelous comment or review, physicians are legally barred from confirming even the simple fact of whether or not the author was an actual patient.
4. Preventive Care
It's not just in the medical field that we should embrace a philosophy of "prevention is better than cure". This is to say that the best way to handle a social media backlash is to never face one in the first place.
A few good rules to follow:
- Avoid questionable jokes - assume 100,000 people will see everything you share
- Stay current on cultural events and monitor your pre-scheduled posts to avoid unintentional offense
- Proofread EVERYTHING
- Set up a regular monitoring schedule for every platform you use
By setting yourself up for success, and having a readily available set of prepared responses "in case of emergency", you will be able to extinguish the flames of most social fires, protecting your business' reputation. If monitoring and responding to social activity sounds overwhelming, you can turn to the digital marketing experts at Informatics to manage your online presence. Contact us today to learn more about our proactive approach to building and maintaining clients' digital profiles.