How to bounce back from a social media disaster

  • Marketing
  • Social Media

Written by: Action Digital

With Facebook reaching 2.2 billion monthly active users in 2018, YouTube going up to 1.9 billion and Instagram climbing to 1 billion, staying out of the social media game is something a company just can’t afford to do. But direct access to billions of potential customers also has its drawbacks, as your social media strategy can be derailed in an instant and throw you and your company in a PR nightmare. A hashtag competition that went out of control, an insensitive tweet or just the wrong background picture were some of the reasons for the biggest social media fails of 2018, costing these companies millions in damages.

Properly handled though, you can minimize the negative impact and even turn this unfortunate development to your benefit. Here’s the steps you need to take to bounce back from a social media disaster.

Have a plan in place

This should go without saying, but your company should have an action plan in place to deal with PR emergencies and said plan should include a social media crisis strategy. If your PR emergency plan doesn’t take social media crisis into consideration, you need to revise it immediately.  

  • Be prepared by running different scenarios to improve your response time and cultivate relations with media outlets and reporters that you can utilize when you need them.
  • Assign employees roles in the crisis response team so everyone is clear on what to do when the time comes.

If you can’t set up a proper social media crisis response team, or if you are worried that you can’t handle one at a professional level, don’t worry. Social media crisis management is one of the key services offered by digital agencies and Action Digital can help you in your time of need.

Act swiftly

Despite your best efforts, accidents are undoubtedly going to happen. What now? First off, you need to understand that time is of the essence here. The story about your social media blunder is about to hit the front page of news websites and be picked up by people on social media, where it will spread like wildfire. When that first article is published and shared, your side of the story needs to be in it. A statement or response from your company acknowledging the problem and a plan on how you intend to fix things, needs to be on that crucial first news cycle. Having an immediate response shows that your company is competent and doesn’t try to cover things up, while an apology signals that you are sincere.

Offer a genuine apology

Blowback is inevitable but user reaction tends to be a lot milder if you have already offered a sincere apology. Don’t be coy, don’t try to be smart, don’t offer a non-apology apology and -most importantly- do not clash with people. Although brushing the whole thing off in a humorous manner will sometimes work, the safest route is an apology. Own up to your mistake, say you are sorry, explain how you plan to proceed and describe what steps you will be taking to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Keep people updated on your actions and be completely transparent. This will go a long way to soften the blow.

Be careful though. In instances like these it is only natural to look for someone to blame but hastily punishing people is not a good idea. Most of the times the mistake is obvious, like the infamous DiGiorno pizza incident, but there are times where things are more complicated. And hastily firing people can lead to far greater problems.

Also, you can try and go the extra mile and issue personalised apologies. It will be extremely time consuming, but it could turn this crisis to your advantage. The DiGiorno incident we mentioned before? The company spent three days apologising to Twitter users and actually managed to turn the tide within just a month.

Don’t delete negative comments

Taking down the problematic post is number one priority. The reason isn’t to hide what happened – everyone knows that whatever goes online stays there forever- but rather to limit the onslaught of negative reactions and to make it easier to apologise to individual users. Deleting the post doesn’t mean deleting all related comments. If users publicly slam your company in other posts, tag you or even come up with a hashtag to attack you, don’t remove them and pretend that they never happened. Any attempt at silencing criticism will be considered as admission of guilt by users and it will spark a new fire in the remains of the old one, this time over your ill-advised attempt to stifle negative feedback. This will result in a entirely new news cycle where your social media gaffe will resurface and you will have to go through the containment process once more.

Don’t feed the trolls

This is good advice in general, but a vital one in your time of crisis. News of a botched social media post acts like a huge neon sign invitation to online trolls, whose only concern is to goad you into a fight and ridicule you. DO. NOT. ENGAGE. This is a fight you cannot win, even if you are right. And trolls will not only look to engage your company account but will extend their efforts to your personal account and even the social media accounts of your employees. Issue a memo instructing everyone to avoid commenting on the incident and instead politely direct anyone who reaches out to them to your PR department.

No, it won’t go away

Some companies believe that the best course of action when such a thing happens is to simply ignore it and get on with their day. Do nothing and people will just forget and move on to the next thing. While tempting, simply ignoring the problem and wishing it away -much like in real life- is never a solution. The probability of this tactic backfiring is very high and the negative impact too costly. Apologising after you have ignored the problem undermines everything you do in the future. Don’t get off to a bad start.

Keep monitoring

Always remember: any hardship can be turned into an opportunity. Same goes with recovering from a social media blunder. Monitoring your process step by step will help you identify your weaknesses so you are better prepared next time, while keeping track of user response is crucial to draft your strategy. There are a number monitoring tools available to help you keep track of your message and you should invest in one. It should be noted that if you contract a digital agency this is a service that will be provided for you.

Move on

The digital landscape is one that shifts at an incredible speed and today’s mistake quickly turns into yesterday’s news. Properly handling the social media mistake you made means escaping criticism relatively unscathed and – if handled properly – be a valuable learning experience. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

The experts at Action Digital are on hand to help you draft a social media strategy and assist you in responding to a social media crisis.

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