Social Media Crisis 101 – For Life, Entrepreneurs, and Bloggers (Inspiration – #medtwitter and #personalfinancetwitter)

Managing a Social Media Crisis

I wanted to talk with you today about managing a social media crisis.

This week, there’s been a lot going on over on Twitter. I have to admit Twitter was not something I used before starting this site. Honestly I never really “got” what you would use it for. I had an account (still do, in fact) but I had 86 followers and only followed 124 people.

What’s been going on, exactly? I won’t go into the gory, gossipy details, but suffice it to say there were several very public meltdowns when private behavior was made public. There was much blaming and defending, as well as doubling down when people won’t “see their side”.

Texbook how NOT to respond to a social media crisis.

I see this often on my town’s Facebook page as well, when an unhappy customer complains to the group about a product or service gone wrong. Instead of taking ownership of the issue, they insult and blame the person with the complaint. Guess who looks bad then? Hint – it’s not the person who made the complaint.

I don’t want to talk about what went down on Twitter, though.

I DO want to talk about how you manage a social media crisis. These tips apply whether you’re just a person using social media, an employee, a business owner (including a blogger), or someone who has a friend going through a crisis.

Why do I think this is an important topic? Because it’s one most ordinary people don’t think about. You probably don’t have a written social media crisis response plan. You don’t have social media monitoring, and a team of people ready to jump on issues.

It’s just you, or you and a small team.

Well today, I’ll teach you just how to handle a social media crisis like a large corporation – without paying a dime.

So read on for the best tactic to prevent a crisis, the times when you can’t prevent one, what to do (and what not to do). I’ll also include links to stories of various social media issues that were handled well (and poorly), because I enjoy reading them.

Social Media Crisis Response 101 – The Best Tactic Is Prevention

The best way to respond to a social media crisis is to never have one in the first place.

Think about it for a moment. A social media crisis usually occurs when something you wouldn’t want other people to see becomes public. Whether it’s an email, a tweet, a text, Instagram or blog post, you need to remember the “New York Times Rule“.

What’s that? It’s the old rule that says never to say or do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times. In the Internet era, it would translate to never saying or doing anything that you wouldn’t want to see on Buzzfeed or CNN.

Remember that when you send an email, even one you think is funny or snarky, it can be used against you. Leave an insulting comment? Someone can trace it back to you. Send some texts to a friend? Your “friend” may decide to make them public.

Treat people with respect. Don’t create fake accounts “for fun”. Don’t deliberately stir up trouble online. The internet can feel like an anonymous place, which encourages some terrible behavior, but you can be found rather easily if someone is determined to find you. Be professional in your emails, friendly in your texts, and behave well in public.

The New York Times Rule can be great prevention. But sometimes, a crisis can’t be prevented.

Types Of Crisis You Can’t Prevent

There are a few types of social media crisis you can’t prevent.

Your Employees Err. Perhaps you own a business, and one of your employees does something that reflects poorly on you.

Out of context.  Maybe you said or did something that gets taken out of context. Someone takes a sentence you wrote and uses it against you, plastering it all over social media.

Unintentional mistake. Remember that all tone is lost in writing. You wrote an abrupt reply to an email, feeling happy things were being taken care of, only to find the recipient is upset and thinks you’re angry. Someone thinks you’ve ignored their concern, when you’re really buried in emails and just didn’t see it yet. Or you’re running your business in a way that you think is fine and dandy, but others see a major problem with it. They’ve complained and don’t feel like you’re listening. So they take to social media to make their complaints heard.

Plenty of honest mistakes can lead to a crisis.

Someone could be out to get you. On the internet, this can and does happen. They manufacture a crisis, fake an issue, or make a complaint that can’t possibly be true. It could be their twisted idea of fun. If their voice is loud enough, people will respond and follow-up by attacking you too. You’ll need to defend yourself from an issue that’s totally fabricated.

You deserve it.  You created fake accounts to mess with people, thinking it would be “fun” (in which case, can I recommend hobbies?), and got caught. It could be you were power tripping in an email exchange, forgetting that emails can go on the internet with a click of your cell phone screenshot functionality. Basically, you said or did something terrible, and now it’s public.

What now? First, what not to do.

Ways to NOT Respond

Common mistakes I see with companies, and people, in a social media crisis response include:

Justification. You were right! People don’t know the whole story! You try and justify your behavior. Employees were following procedures. Etc., etc.

Why it doesn’t work – people rarely care about the full story, unless you’re experiencing the “someone is out to get you” issue. In which case, see below for the correct response.

Blaming. It’s not your fault – it’s their fault! You try to turn it around and blame the person accusing you of the wrongdoing.

Why it doesn’t work – this usually makes you look immature, and like a jerk (to be honest). You get bonus negative points for blaming in a disturbing way. And, of course, if you’ve actually done something wrong, this is just a generally terrible thing to do.

Defending. This is often related to justification and blaming. People feel the need to defend themselves, what they did, and why they’re not a terrible person.

Why it doesn’t work – It can be natural to defend yourself, particularly when you’re feeling attacked. But when you try to defend yourself, people will interpret it as defending what you did. And frankly some things are just indefensible.

So that’s what not to do. What should you do instead?

Social Media Crisis – What To Do

What should you do? It’s pretty straightforward, actually.

Take a deep breath. You don’t want to respond immediately, because you’re likely to respond in an ineffective way.

Examine the situation impartially. Pretend for a moment this is happening to someone else, not to you. What exactly is going on here? Which kind of situation are you dealing with? Is there some truth to what’s being said, or is it totally fabricated? Or do you not know yet, and you need time to investigate?

Communicate professionally. Pretend you’re a very large company in your response, if it helps. What would a corporation do if faced with this kind of situation? Do some Googling and research effective vs. ineffective responses.

Be brief, and sincere. Acknowledge that you’ve seen the issue. Take ownership. Apologize, sincerely, directly to the person and to the public. Promise to do research if you need to, and then do that research. Follow-up later if required with what steps you’re taking to change things.

Take it offline. Notice how I said you should be brief. Long winded, complex explanations, or repeatedly bringing up the topic, will only keep it fresh in peoples minds. Take it offline with the person who has a complaint and address their concerns privately.

If you didn’t do anything wrong. You’ll need to tread the fine line between explanation and justification/defending. I know, it seems unfair, because you really didn’t do anything! But remember that on the internet, people don’t know what to believe. There are also a lot of unreasonable people that like to pile on for fun. Post an impartial explanation of what really happened, with evidence if at all possible. You may need to go on a “press tour”, and have other well known people go to bat for you. It’s still unfair, but you need to do what you need to do.

Examples of Crisis Response – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Now, as promised, here are some of my “favorite” (?) crisis response stories.

Wendy’s “finger in a bowl of chili” incident – this ended up being a scam, with the couple sentenced to quite a long time in jail.  They handled it well at first, but it went downhill. The resulting crisis from not handling this correctly caused a massive drop in sales. People lost their jobs. It’s just all around sad.

United Airlines, Uber, Dove, McDonalds, and More – Some notable crises from 2017

More notable crises from 2017. Apparently it was a busy year for Adidas, the Fyre Festival, and Pepsi.

A mix of good and bad responses. Includes customer blaming, poking the hornets nest after things settled down, and, um, some extremely insulting advertisements.

If your company is perceived negatively by a lot of people, don’t have a public Q&A.

Eleven examples of bad social media crisis management, including the Amy’s Baking Company meltdown.

United breaks guitars. Enough said. Should have fixed the guys guitar before 18 million people watched this. There’s even a book, all about the power of one voice in a social media age, inspired by this disaster.  Apparently they saved $1,200 by not covering the damage. Unwise move.

I Want To Hear From You

What other tips do you have for managing a social media crisis? And what’s your favorite good – or bad – social media crisis response story? Let me know in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “Social Media Crisis 101 – For Life, Entrepreneurs, and Bloggers (Inspiration – #medtwitter and #personalfinancetwitter)”

  1. Thanks Liz for pointing on some of the perils of social media. You are right that lot of communication can have unintended interpretations as the face to face aspect is gone and you really can’t convey it unless you start peppering your texts with emojis and LOLs.

    I can see how easy it is to get caught up in this when you get personally attacked by someone as it happened to me when someone responded to a what I feel was a reasonable question in a derogatory fashion insulting me and my profession on a forum (only time it has ever happened and I became livid and responded in like). Not my proudest moment and there was a little blowback on both sides by the more level headed members of that forum. But I made the mistake you listed of trying to defend and justify myself. Not sure if it went over well or not but it did die down (hopefully) I think.

    It’s hard to say how you would react until it happens to you but I can see how it can escalate and start a flame war (which no one wins)

  2. I really try to stick to low information diet and social media is pretty much included. Same for me, saw Twitter first when created an account because of blogging and this is my one and only social media account (both in blogging and personal life) and have no plans to do otherwise. As a consequence, I want to head towards the “The best way to respond to a social media crisis is to never have one in the first place.” option.

    Same time I am extremely worried about this kind of stuff when the topic is social media consumption for kids. When you see and hear stories about how some basic stupidity (not respecting the New York Times Rule) ruined reputations even lives of youngsters. Especially when in some occasions the crisis ended up in suicide. As being a father who I am having my kids grow up into a world like that scares the sh*t out of me. I try my best to keep my family away from it (and of course educate them when they will be old enough) but I afraid we cannot succeed in 100% all the time.

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