5 steps for handling a social media crisis

The overriding theme is to respond rather than react, of course, but here is a sensible protocol for handling negative comments—whether they’re justified or not.

We’ve all seen it, and it happens to most every business sooner or later: An unhappy customer lashes out publicly, using their fingers as their voice and social media as their megaphone.

Whether you are new to social media or not, there are a few rules you should always follow if someone “flames” your social media pages with negative comments.

1. Don’t say anything.

At least, not at first. Everyone responds at an emotional level to something at some point, and often you won’t even be aware when it happens. The best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut until you know exactly what you want to say. If you respond as the topic or issue is “blowing up,” your response could be lost in a sea of “trolling,” criticism, and infighting among your followers.

2. Find the real problem.

Sometimes people are just mean, and they express that through their words. More often than not, however, there is an actual issue causing the negativity. Think carefully about what any and all aspects of this issue could be before you offer a response.

If they are being mean for the sake of being mean, ignore it. If it is a sincere mistake or error on your end, own up to it. If this is a deep-seated issue that recurs regularly, think about whether a more institutionalized response would better suit your company’s reputation.

3. Plan your response.

Once you’ve identified the real issue, figure out whether it’s something you can easily address. If this is something that can be fixed by replacing something that’s been broken, do it, and let the commenter know you’ve done it. If it’s a problem with your design as a whole, make a note of it; thank the person for identifying that aspect of the problem, and think about how you might be able to improve it for future use.

4. Be civil.

Know what tactic doesn’t work? Arguing with people who post on your social media feeds. There are some extremely rare cases of this working, but they also apply to a specific type of business; often ones that deal in irony and satire.

Unless this is you, show that you care about a problem someone has. It shows you’re invested in their happiness and experience with your product or services. This encourages the customer to invest in your company. These two aspects are not mutually exclusive.

5. Once you’ve said your piece, move on.

Once you have addressed the issue politely, end the conversation. If the individual(s) are still not pleased, offer a channel of communication that gets it off of your social media to better resolve the issue and go further into the problem. For major issues people often times comment just to get a reaction. If you feel this is what is happened to you, take a tactic from elementary school: Don’t react. If it turns into harassment, use your admin privileges to keep that person from continuing to spam your page.

As obvious as it seems, sometimes people forget: Never lose your cool. If you remain calm, take time to understand the issue and think through your response, be nice and speak only once, chances are you can prevent an issue from escalating and begin rebuilding trust with your customers as quickly as possible.

Eric Davidson is a Vocus Marketing Consultant who helps businesses get better marketing results. A version of this post first appeared on Vocus’ blog.

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