Six rules for managing social media crises

With the rise of social media, hardly a day goes by without an organisation getting mired in some social media snafu.
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By Casey Chua

With the rise of social media, hardly a day goes by without an organisation getting mired in some form of social media snafu.

Organisations try their best to prevent a social media crisis from happening in the first place. There could be robust social media policies in place, but they amount to nothing if compliance is left wanting.

When the proverbial hits the fan, what should you do? Here are six rules for managing and overcome a social media crisis.

1. Be objective and rational

Emotions can run high during a social media crisis, and can sometimes lead to a free-for-all mudslinging exercise by your vocal critics and the keyboard warriors.

When the claims are spurious, it is tempting to launch a counteroffensive. But when you choose to fight with your customers, you may win the battle but lose the war. It is better to stay calm and engage your audience only after the smoke has cleared and when emotions are in check.

Some of your unreasonable critics have an axe to grind, and they will bait you into responding in a manner that will be viewed negatively. Always remember that every word you post online will be scrutinised, so it’s best to be circumspect before responding to the trolls.

2. Acknowledge negative feedback

There is no smoke without fire, and there’s no place to hide on social media when your customers are upset. Acknowledging their sentiments shows that you are aware of the situation, and that you intend to address the situation. Your customers will appreciate that someone is taking responsibility for the problem (even if there’s no formal apology) as long as it comes across as being genuine and sincere.

3. Maintain focus

In the heat of a social media crisis, there will be discordant voices and it is important to stay focused and differentiate the signals from the noise. To do so, there must be absolute clarity and consistency in the messaging. Customers want to know exactly how you intend to deal with the situation in clear and simple terms. Hiding behind legalese and quibbling over semantics will only frustrate and alienate even your most loyal customers.

4. Provide constructive solutions

A social media crisis could be a sign of organisation failings. Organisations must take such crises seriously and reflect on why it has happened, how it has affected their customers, and how they can provide solutions.

If you display empathy and sympathy your customers (at least the rational ones) will understand that it may take time to develop long-term solutions.

5. Identify your biggest allies and evangelists

Everyone looks for friends in times of need, and organisations are no different. Contact your partners and most influential supporters and privately inform them of the crisis at hand. It makes sense that the news comes directly from you rather than from social media. This maintains trust and loyalty, and hopefully when asked, your partners will vouch for you. You can also use this as an opportunity to gather advice and constructive feedback on how to prevent such crises from recurring.

6. Re-evaluate your policies

The dark cloud of a social media or public relations disaster may have a silver lining. It may be a call to change your policies from the top down. This might mean revisiting all your customer service rules, as well as your management’s response to a crisis. Listen to what your customers are saying to learn how to prevent future crises, or deal with them as they occur.

If it means a complete overhaul of your entire corporate rule book to empower employees on the ground to make decisions that were only reserved for their superiors, so be it.

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