What do disgruntled employees, hackers, and misguided social media managers all have in common? The ability to tarnish your company's reputation with a single erroneous, ill-timed, or malicious status update on one of your social channels .
Whether a PR crisis stems from an honest mistake or a deliberate attempt to draw negative attention to your brand, here's what to do when a social media update draws the wrong kind of attention from your fans and followers.
1. Address the situation immediately. It's tempting to spend a lot of time consulting team members, management, and perhaps even attorneys before tackling the problem so you don't make it worse. However, it only takes minutes for social media missteps to go viral so don't wait too long before acknowledging the issue.
The best thing you can do when confronted with a social media crisis is to immediately post a message letting followers know you're looking into the issue and will have an update shortly. Then get your ducks in a row and follow through. For minor infractions, it may be sufficient to simply delete the offending message, issue a brief apology on the platform where it ran, and leave it at that. However, larger issues may require a formal press release or more detailed media response.
2. Apologize, don't make excuses. Customers expect companies to own up to their mistakes, not point fingers or dodge blame. Now is not the time to talk about how your IT team didn't set up strong passwords or that your HR department didn't revoke account access before terminating someone's employment. It doesn't matter why your account was compromised; most followers will hold you accountable at any cost. Apologize, accept blame, and let customers know you're taking care of the issue.
3. Just the facts, ma'am. When mitigating a reputation crisis it's best to say only as much as necessary and leave out any frivolous information. It's fine to share basic facts like, "Our account was hacked by someone outside the organization" but more details than that aren't always necessary. This is also not the time to share your opinion on whether you think the criticism you're receiving is warranted. If you've offended your customer base, you need to make it right or be prepared to have no customers at all.
4. Deleted but not forgotten. Speaking of deleting messages, you can erase updates from your social media timelines but don't assume someone hasn't already taken a screenshot or that it's not still lingering somewhere in a third-party application like Hootsuite waiting to be discovered by one of your followers. Remember this if you're tempted to fudge facts when crafting damage control messages. The only thing worse than accidentally posting an offensive message is lying about it later. The internet never forgets anything.
5. Don't hide from critics. After suffering an embarrassing social media blunder it's tempting to issue an apology and pretend it never happened. While you don't want to continually revisit the unpleasantness for weeks, do take the time to answer at least some of the individual fans and followers who take you to task online. Personal and heartfelt responses go a long way toward smoothing ruffled feathers. One caveat: Don't simply cut and paste the same response to each person. Shortcuts don't make you look sincere, they make you look like inauthentic.
In a perfect world, social media engagement would be a flawless task where nothing ever goes wrong. People do make mistakes though, so it's important to have a plan in place to quickly deal with a worst case scenario before it gets out of hand.